Thursday, July 24, 2008

Quantum Musicians

A common metaphor in quantum mechanics relates the standing wave vibrations of electrons in atoms to the harmonics of plucked guitar strings. Apparently that image has resonated with some of the offspring of quantum theorists who have chosen musical careers.

A pioneer of this trend was Olivia Newton-John, the English-born Australian musician who captivated audiences in Grease and Xanadu. Her maternal grandfather was none other than one of the principal founders of quantum mechanics, Goettingen physicist Max Born.

In more recent years, the band Eels has attracted a loyal following. Its founder, (aka "Mr. E") is Mark Everett, son of Hugh Everett, developer of the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics. He was recently featured in the BBC documentary "Parallel Lives, Parallel Universes."

Albert Baez, an X-ray pioneer, passed away last year. You can guess who his famous daughter, a prominent folksinger, is.

Then there are Brian May, guitarist and songwriter of the classic rock band Queen, and Brian Cox of the UK Synthpop Band D:ream. They have started a kind of reverse trend. May has become an astrophysicist and chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University and Cox has become a physicist at CERN.

Quantum harmonies are more than just a metaphor these days!

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