Eva Zadeh has the story:
Eva Zadeh has the story:
On July 24, the first act to take the stage at the new Central Square Theater will be a science play.
“QED,” which stands for quantum electrodynamics, is a conversation with the late physicist Richard Feynman, best known for his work explaining the state of things at the super small scale.
Cambridge Science Festival participants were able to catch a sneak peek of the play at the Broad Institute, and judging from the audience’s reaction to the Saturday, May 3, performance, it was well received.
The play is set in Richard Feynman’s office at Caltech in 1986, about a year before he died of cancer. It is an imaginary day, but one that captures Feynman more as a man rather than a scientist. This is not a two-hour lecture on quantum physics. This is a series of anecdotes – about an obsession to see the country of Tuva, the pain of losing a wife, the excitement of building the atomic bomb, and what science does and does not know.
“Everything is interesting if you look deeply enough,” says the character Feynman. Part of what transcends QED from just a “science play” is its writing. The weaving of narratives, both funny and serious, and the conversational dialogue makes you see how human an endeavor like science is. When you leave the theater, you realize what made Feynman such a great scientist was his curiosity and playful personality.
Playing Feynman in the Underground Railway Theater production come July will be Keith Jochim. “This guy’s like channeling him,” said David Kaiser, an Associate Professor in Science, Technology and Society at MIT and author of a book on Feynman after the May 3 performance. A professional theater actor for 35 years, Jochim knows how to demand the audience’s attention and put just the right amount of emotion and dispassion into the performance. Part of his inspiration, he said, was coming from a family of scientists. “I’ve always been around people who have a curiosity of certain things,” said Jochim.
Because the play was focused on the human side of science, information about quantum physics was kept to a minimum. There were metaphors and graphics to help the audience, but to have gone too heavy into Feynman as a scientist wouldn’t have been as interesting. We do get a taste of Professor Feyman, however, in his interactions interacts throughout the play with imaginary student Miriam Field, played by Danielle Kellerman, a graduate of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts. While a nice job, Kellerman’s performance was a little too sexy at times, and it seemed like her character was trying to seduce Feynman more than inspire him.
As a celebration of science, “QED,” hits the spot. And it’s great to know a place like the Undground Railway Theater exists in Cambridge, that puts on science plays. On August 11 through 15 they will also show “Looking at The Life of Galileo: A History Play for Our Times,” also at the Central Square Theater. They are the troupe to go for interesting science theater.
See what Nature Network News Editor Corie Lok had to say about “QED” on her blog.
There are nearly 9,000 known species of ants in this world, each with its own look and DNA. In order to communicate and learn more about them, scientists need some way to organize them. Just like alphabetical order can organize words, scientists organize organisms by their taxa.
Joe Morelli, a 2005 graduate of The Art Institute of Boston, examines this ordering system in a wood and acrylic sculpture series he calls “Taxa.” In his work, species of birds and insects are simplified, so we can see how scientists groups things according to observed similarities and differences. He hopes viewers walk away thinking about how the world isn’t naturally classified – it’s really an act of human intelligence.
“My work manifests the human compulsion to classify, simplify, understand and record natural phenomena,” says Morelli, who although an artist, is inspired by the words of science writers like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould. “Evolution has endowed us with the ability to infer patterns from randomness, and meaning from where none may exist. We impose order on the natural world.”
Morelli believes humans are “pattern-seeking animals,” and with his work, like bhombus, (shown up top), the taxa for bumblebees, or passerines, (left), showing songbirds, he makes the patterns obvious.
“The greatest flaw science exhibits, also remains its greatest strength: The openness to revision and falsification.” says Morelli. “To highlight the fallacies or imperfections in a scientific theory, is to engage in the very process that drives science itself.”
The problem with climate change is that it’s abstract. We’ve all heard that carbon dioxide levels are rising, along with the average global temperature, but we can’t feel these changes like we can the effect of a space heater on a chilly room. Add a bitterly cold Boston winter, and the threat of global warming doesn’t seem so urgent. Magazines and newspapers try to move us with photographs of polar bears, pollution, and the carbon cycle, but this is an issue that needs more than a thousand words.
“Greed, Guilt & Grappling: Six Artists Respond to Climate Change” at the Boston Center for the Arts‘ Mills Gallery does a satisfactory job of making global warming relevant and visible, but sometimes at the expense of making visitors feel guilty about their lack of eco-awareness. The exhibit, co-organized by visual artists Mags Harries of Cambridge and Clara Wainwright of Brookline, will run through March 30 and is free to the public, although a donation of $5 is suggested.
The most interesting works allow visitors to see the impact an individual can have on environment. Instant Noodles by Michael Sheridan uses 400 empty noodle packages tossed into a corner to symbolize the mass of waste even a simple meal can accumulate over time. (He also asks visitors to factor in the use of palm oil to make the product, another serious environmental issue). On the ceiling above the main gallery is Carbon Footprints by Lajos Heder, drawings of shoe imprints created from a mix of acrylic paint and the carbon released from the 2007 California wildfires. The piece is powerful because it turns the invisible – our carbon dioxide emissions – into a black substance we can see, taste and touch.
Visitors are asked to write their own reactions to climate change on the wall where the foot path begins, part of the exhibit’s goal to encourage dialogue on the topic. While some of the messages seemed right out of the Greenpeace handbook, such as “Luxury living perpetuates global warming” and “I want my kids to build a fort in the woods one day,” others were permeated by eco-guilt. Phrases like “I hate relying on public transportation” and “I feel guilty for enjoying my cab ride,” even caught the attention of Boston Globe reporter Amy Farnsworth.
The exhibit goes quickly from depicting abstract environmental concepts to climate change activism. This was most evident in The Eco-Shaman Robes by Clara Wainwright. Visitors are meant to put on one these well-crafted and colorful garments, each portraying some kind of endangered critter, walk outside and engage strangers in conversation about climate change. While audience participation does bring an issue like global warming to life, because of the politics and the obvious bias, the robes come off as oddly cultish. (Greg Cook at the Boston Phoenix offers another perspective on this example in his review of the exhibit).
Most frustrating of all was Global Yawning for a Small Planet by Jay Critchley, a video exhibit in which two side by side projectors screened footage of people yawning. His argument is because yawning is a social act that can be shared, so should the act of fighting global warming. The problem with this logic is that yawning is instinctual while changing one’s behavior requires thought, consideration and a plan.
Overall, the exhibit is an interesting fusion of art and science, admirable for engaging the public in a dialogue about global warming. Creating work that maintains a balance between reflective and didactic without making exaggerated scientific claims is an effective way to leave visitors beaming with eco-excitement.
Essayist Oliver Sacks topped the New York Times bestseller list last year by examining the science of music, which left me wondering, has anyone examined the music of scientists?Science PhDs with rhythm and a passion for melodies do exist and in large numbers, but the case studies are rare. Last summer, a group of geologists picked up their instruments for an Antarctic performance to combat the climate crisis. At major scientific conferences, Lynda Williams, a physics professor by day, has been know to transform into The Physics Chanteuse and belt songs like “Carbon is a Girl’s Best Friend.” There have even been reports of musicians who are members of the American Association of Medical Colleges and a 1999 book titled “Doctors Afield,” featuring contributions by physicians who take up creative pursuits.
One of the contributors was Dr. Eli Newberger, a professor at Harvard Medical School and founder of the Child Protection Team and Family Development Program at Children’s Hospital Boston. In his spare time, Dr. Newberger takes up the tuba and performs with his wife Carolyn in The Cupcake Philharmonic Orchestra. Over the years he has contributed to various recordings, as the leader of the New Black Eagle Jazz Band at Boston’s Symphony Hall and an accompanist for jazz musician Jimmy Mazzy. You can listen to a few of these on his Website.
According to a review of “Doctor’s Afield” in the British Medical Journal,” Dr. Newberger says that music “offers succor and relief from the oppressive aspects of my medical work” and “keeps me in touch with the emotional underpinnings of life.”
Pardis Sabeti, another doctor-musician from Harvard Medical School, was profiled last summer in a blog post by Corie Lok, an alumna of the BU science journalism program who is now at Nature Network Boston. Sabeti is the lead singer of the alternative rock band Thousand Days. While science doesn’t seem to be the major theme of their music, Lok’s article states Sabeti hopes to use music to turn children on to science by making music videos with scientists.
If that’s not enough, non-scientists of the band Freezepop, which formed in Boston in 1999, have released many science-themed songs now popular with fans of the video game franchises Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution, or you can check out the concerts that occasionally pop up at the Museum of Science. Rock on!