Quantum Physicists in Disguise…

A photographic collage showing a number of Quantum celebrities, including Charlotte Church, Will I. Am, Tiger Woods, Anne Hathaway and Mark Everett. Image: NaturPhilosophieCelebrities you Thought you Knew Everything About

This blog isn’t really “trendy”…  “Physicists aren’t cool, and you never meet them anywhere anyway because they are all lesser known characters, some of them shady, who spend all their time toiling in obscurity on things no one does understand.” 

Really?  And they’re shady, are they?  In obscurity…  (Rolls eyes.  Sigh!)  Anyhow…  I never thought I’d see some “celebs” on this website, but there you are.  How’s that for trendy!!

If you are a regular reader, you know this blog does not usually contain tabloid-worthy material.  It’s made for physicists, and those with an interest in the natural sciences.  That’s how I like it.  This isn’t Marie Claire.  I just don’t do celebs…

But PhysicsWorld (Yes!) reveals this week that the Welsh pop star Charlotte Church (I know, right?!!) has released her latest EP entitled Four.  (Wait.  It gets even more surreal…)  In a conversation with New Scientist, Church explained that the EP’s opening track “Entanglement” was in fact named after the quantum-mechanical phenomenon known affectionately to physicists as “spooky action at a distance”!  She has since told BBC Wales that she may well take her interest in science to the next level by studying for a physics degree.  (Wow!  No way!  Yay!!!)


Five Self-Confessed Famous Geeks

There are of course several really famous people who are more directly connected with physics, having studied the subject in some form before going on to become luminaries in other fields.  Examples have included Queen’s guitar hero Brian May, and perhaps the most powerful woman in the world right now, the German chancellor Angela Merkel.  Dr Merkel earned her doctorate as a physical chemist.  Her second and current husband is quantum chemist and professor Joachim Sauer.

But Church is one of a new brigade of celebrities who are discovering the “joys of physics” after having already reached stardom for other abilities.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of celebrities who beneath the surface are in fact quantum physicists… in disguise.

Charlotte Church’s Entanglement

Within the space of a few years Charlotte Church went from childhood classical music sensation to red-top-newspaper regular.  Her successful shift into pop music in the mid-2000s was documented in excessive detail by a British tabloid media obsessed with her personal life and her every night out on the town.  But in recent times Church has been re-establishing herself as a serious artist, with the release of a series of EPs with a more alternative rock sound.  The latest in this series, Four, is inspired by science, including the tracks “Entanglement” and “Death and Mathematics”.

Will.i.am Reaches for the Stars

The US megastar, perhaps best known as one of the founding members of Black Eyed Peas, has long talked about science and technology with the same passion as he talks about music.  In 2012, he became the first person to have their song played on Mars, when his single “Reach for the stars” was premiered by the Mars Curiosity Rover.  Mr I.am has since revealed that he wants to return to university to study computer science because he is fascinated by the ideas of quantum mechanics.

Anne Hathaway and the Joys of Physics

The Hollywood actress has been quoted many times expressing her joy of physics.  “Any spare time I have, I bury my head in a physics textbook,” she told GQ magazine in an interview in March 2010.  ”I’m reading a lot about Einstein.  I like theories.  I want to understand string theory.  I’m dying for someone to explain quarks to me!”  The star of The Devil Wears Prada was at it again in December of that year, telling the Telegraph that she was learning about string theory in her spare time by reading Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe.  Good luck with that!  Let’s hope it wasn’t just Anne’s thing for 2010 and that she has maintained her interest in fundamental science.

Tiger Woods Getting a Grip on Physics

Whereas others on this list have been happy to promote their new-found “quantum geekery“, Tiger Woods’ public outing as a physics fan is probably something he wishes never happened.  Cast your mind back to 2009 and the media frenzy that surrounded the revelations of his multiple extramarital affairs.  You may remember that in late November of that year, Woods crashed his car into a tree during an incident outside his home.  To our great surprise, photographed on the floor of his Cadillac Escalade was a copy of none other than Get a Grip on Physics by veteran UK science writer John Gribbin.

Following this bizarre revelation, the paperback, which was out of print, shot up the Amazon sales charts from number 396,224 to 2268 as the last few hundred copies were snapped up by eager punters. We’re not condoning the circumstances that surrounded this “physics-fan outing” but we certainly approve of your reading choices, Tiger.

Mark Everett and the “Many Worlds” Connection

The Eels‘ frontman is perhaps not as much in the public gaze as some of the other celebrities mentioned so far, but his connection with quantum physics is perhaps the strongest of them all.  That is because Mark Everett is the son of physicist Hugh Everett III, the founder of the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics.

A full explanation of Mark’s father’s idea could easily fill an entire book; indeed it has.  But the basic idea is that the quantum nature of reality means that multiple outcomes to events can occur simultaneously in different “worlds”.  The mind-boggling consequence of the logic is that there could be alternative human histories, whereby people evolved to have three heads and/or bright blue skin.

In 2007, the critically acclaimed musician unearthed a hoard of his father’s possessions with the assistance of the investigative journalist Peter Byrne as part of a BBC documentary.  Byrne wrote about the experience in a feature for a 2010 feature for Physics World, and he also presented this special online lecture for physicsworld.com.

The armchair psychologist might suggest that learning about the mechanics of the cosmos offers a refreshing alternative to the shallow nature of life that often comes with the celebrity lifestyle, or at least our view of it as presented by the media.

So, let’s salute Charlotte and the others again for “outing themselves” as physics nerds.  Because…  Let’s face it, celebrities reading books isn’t really newsworthy, is it?  If you have been reading this far, you may well feel you’ve just wasted ten minutes of your life that you will never get back!

And yet, if it can encourage more people to follow suit and go find out about physics and the way Nature works, I don’t see the problem with that.  The more the better…