October 19, 2018, by jicke

Maths inspired art makes front cover

An artwork created to illustrate a maths research project has been chosen to go on the front cover of the latest edition of one of the top international physics journals, ‘Physical Review Letters’. 

Unusual inspiration 

Quantum physics and maths are unusual inspirations for a piece of art, but research fellow Dr Paul Knott was keen to provide a visual representation of his work, he says: “I aim to collaborate to produce an artwork for each major project I do. But this project seemed particularly suitable. 

“Normally research on quantum physics only involves small objects, such as electrons and photons. But this project directly relates to our everyday world because we are asking questions such as How does the world we see around us arise from the bizarre quantum-scale world?, and more specifically, Why do visible objects have objective properties, despite being constructed from quantum mechanical particles? We tried to emphasise this in the artwork. At the top of the image we see multiple artists painting a cat, which illustrates that everyday objects in the world we see around us, such as tables, chairs and cats, have objective properties. For example, if multiple people look at a cat, they invariably agree on the position of the cat; in this case the position is said to be objective. Then, at the bottom of the image, the cat in lots of different positions and poses is intended to illustrate the bizarre and fuzzy quantum world that we don’t directly see, but that underlies everything in our surroundings. Thus, as we showed in our paper (co-authed with Tommaso Tufarelli, Gerardo Adesso, and Marco Piani), the objective classical reality emerges from an underlying quantum mechanical substrate.” 

Award winning artist 

The image was created by Joseph Namara Hollis who Paul has worked with for a number of years. Joseph was recently named V&A Student Illustrator of the year, he says: “The illustration is compiled digitally, combing ink drawings and mono-print textures. To achieve a sense of freedom I tend to draw fast, then edit selectively later. It’s hard to say exactly how long an illustration takes when you consider the time spent working away from the desk researching and processing ideas. I enjoy seeing the ideas emerge from the subconscious onto paper. I’m thrilled the artwork will be on the cover, I hope it gives other people the chance to enjoy the science and the drawing too. It’s fantastic working on stimulating projects such as this that give me the opportunity to learn while I work.” 

The image has been used in posters, conference presentations, as the main image for a conference organised by Paul and colleagues. The poster was also displayed at a STEM event at the Houses of Parliament. 

Maths, Physics and Art are also combining for a unique opera being shown at Lakeside Arts on the 27th November. ‘Entanglement! An Entropic Tale’ presents a contemporary vision of physics including Gravitational Waves, Parallel Universes, Black Holes and Hawking Radiation. First performed at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Opening Festival, the opera has been described as “the Romeo and Juliet of particle physics”.


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