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Spector Connects Physics and the Arts

Posted on Tuesday, November 19, 2013

At two recent conferences in the Netherlands, Professor of Physics Donald Spector took his interdisciplinary interests into a new arena as he not only presented two papers on physics and the arts but also took to the stage in a performance of John Mighton's play "Half Life."

At the broadly interdisciplinary 2013 Symmetry conference in Delft, Spector presented his paper "Missed Symmetry: Godot and the Multiverse," which invokes ideas from quantum mechanics to identify symmetries in the structure of Samuel Beckett's play, "Waiting for Godot," and then examines how to embody these symmetries performatively. This paper has also been accepted for publication in the journal Symmetry: Culture and Science.

At the international annual conference "Bridges: Mathematical Connections in Art, Music, and Science," which brings together scholars and practitioners to explore the intersection of these disciplines, Spector presented on avant-garde composer John Cage's famous piece 4' 33" (in which no notes are played). In "John Cage Adores a Vacuum," which is published in the refereed conference proceedings, Spector identifies common structures within 4' 33" and the mathematical formulation of the vacuum in quantum physics.

Each year at the Bridges meeting, a small group of conference participants produces a play with connections to the themes of the conference. This year, under the direction of Professor Steven Abbott of Middlebury College, Spector performed in "Half Life," by Canadian playwright and mathematician John Mighton, which engages ideas from the Turing test to tesseracts and explores questions of memory and identity. In the performance, which was the culminating event of the conference, Spector played the role of Patrick, a mathematician who had been a codebreaker in World War II.

Spector has been a member of the HWS faculty since 1989. His work in theoretical particle physics has been recognized with awards from the National Science Foundation, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, the Foundational Questions Institute and the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics. Currently the coordinator of the HWS engineering program, Spector received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from Harvard University.

 


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