Beautiful Quantum Scribbles

by Bob Schwartz


In Robert Wise’s classic sci-fi movie The Day The Earth Stood Still, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), a visitor from distant space, has come to earth to warn world leaders that their conflicts endanger universal order and must end. To enlist the help of the smartest scientist, Dr. Barnhardt (a fictionalized Albert Einstein played by Sam Jaffe), Klaatu visits the professor’s house. He finds an unsolved problem in celestial mechanics on the blackboard, and quickly corrects the equations. He is interrupted by the housekeeper Hilda:

HILDA
How dare you write on that blackboard! Do you realize the Professor has been working on that problem for weeks?

KLAATU
He’ll catch on to it in no time now.

HILDA
How did you get in here? And what do you want?

KLAATU
We came to see Professor Barnhardt.

HILDA
Well, he’s not here. And he won’t be back till this evening.
(Klaatu scribbles a note and hands it to Hilda.)

KLAATU
You might keep this. I think the professor will want to get in touch with me.

Hilda’s glance wanders to the blackboard and she picks up an eraser, debating whether to erase Klaatu’s corrections.

KLAATU
I wouldn’t erase that. The Professor needs it very badly.

Even if you are not a physicist, and are simply intrigued by the arcana that only geniuses and space aliens understand, this is a memorable moment.

People who are comfortable living in the old high school classroom picture of a determinate universe full of atoms and their constituent protons, neutrons and electrons have another think coming. In the quantum world beyond simple particles, anything is possible and nothing is certain, if certainty itself exists. In the view of some, in quantum physics are hints of rough sketches of the face of God, as well solutions to practical matters such as how to teleport information across the universe beyond light speed. Those of us of lesser minds struggle to grasp even the most basic concepts, while the greater minds solve puzzles beautiful in their incomprehensibility.

Spanish artist Alejandro Guijarro has combined two things at polar ends of research and education. On one end he has taken detailed photos of blackboards, a thinking and teaching tool so primitive that some are surprised to find them still around, and others have never seen one. On the far end, these particular blackboards belong to some of the world’s leading quantum thinkers. Guijarro traveled to institutes and laboratories around the world to record the smudged, chalk-streaked evidence of some of the world’s most sublime calculations…and erasures.

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