Not even Hawking

Don’t know what a black hole is? Don’t worry: not even Hawking does. Not completely at least. Of course he’s among the best positioned to have a quite detailed picture but, as you might have noticed from recent press, the (in)famous black hole monster is still an open research problem for the whole scientific community who’s been working on it for the past 40 years! Yeah: that’s how difficult the problem is, so don’t feel too small.

Professor Stephen Hawking pictured against the language he likes to speak: though his body has been imprisoned for decades, his mind has never been.

Black holes stare at us with their load of secrets as they sit at the crossroad of physics’ most comprehensive theories. The first one is Einstein’s theory of gravity, called General Relativity, which accounts for the movement of very large objects in the universe and even the history of the cosmos itself; the second theory is called Quantum Mechanics and describes the very small and quirky realm of infinitesimal particles. Both theories were heavily influenced by Einstein, who helped jumpstart the quantum revolution and completely molded General Relativity. Hawking & Co. are right in Einstein’s tracks, as black holes find themselves at the convergence of Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity: understanding them fully is poised to bring a revolution in physics.

There's no being more iconic than ending up on a t-shirt. By the way, if you happen to know where I could find this specific one, please let me know: I have been looking for it for almost 20 years now!

There’s no being more iconic than ending up on a t-shirt. By the way, if you happen to know where I could find this specific one, please let me know: I have been looking for it for almost 20 years now!

The problem physicists have been working on since the 60’s is called the black hole information loss paradox and can be encapsulated in one very simple question “what happens if you pour a cup of tea on a black hole“? This is an example of how physicists work: they ask “what if … ?” and embark in the ensuing adventure.

Just so I clear the doubt once and for all: most of the times these questions are explored by scientists in collaboration and, even if a single one makes great strides and becomes famous, like Einstein and Hawking, at least they rely on previous hard work by other smart people. So the reason why I take Hawking here as representative of the endeavor is because, as Einstein, he’s an iconic character.

Back to business, what happens if you pour a cup of tea on a black hole? The tea itself would disappear because black holes suck everything, as you might already know, even though this only happens in their proximity, so, unless you go poke the bear, a black hole is not dangerous.

What about the heat of the tea? is it gone, too? is there a way from the outside to reconstruct the characteristics of what went in the black hole? had it been a cup of equally hot milk, would we be able to tell the difference by inspecting the black hole? or, in current physics parlance, can we retrieve information from a black hole?

Notice that I said that, in order to know what happens to the cup of tea, we would “inspect” the black hole, I didn’t say we’d ”look at it” for a very precise reason: black holes do not reflect the light impinging on them, as do objects we can see (if you had never thought about the ability of seeing in these terms, try for a moment to picture yourself at night, shining a torch ON objects so that they can bounce light back at your eyes).

Hawking has already contributed a smart idea to the problem of how reticent black holes can be about what they have hidden in their interiors. Forty years ago, he figured black holes can sweat! He did not use these exact words and so far I haven’t heard anyone else using them but that’s a way I think can ease the understanding of Hawking radiation, as his proposal came to be known.

It turns out that calling space empty is a misnomer: even when devoid of matter particles, space is full of other stuff we do not see other than through its effects. Imagine you are on the top of a mountain, contemplating the panorama around you, especially the mountains summits framing your horizon; between the mountain you’re sitting on and the mountains at the horizon there’s no other mountain: there’s an emptiness of mountains. However, there might be fields in between, covering the valleys hidden by the clouds: lavender fields, corn fields, etc. That’s the closest I can go to the situation in space: between Earth and the Moon, and between us and the Sun, there does not seem to be anything but in reality there are so-called fields, such as the electromagnetic field and the gravitational field.

From summit to summit one could think of there being nothing but fog, however, below the fog there could be beautiful flower fields. This situation can serve as a parallel to physical fields permeating space, even when we’d call it empty.

A field is like The Force, not the physics concept but the Star Wars one, an entity that permeates space and that you do not see directly with your eyes but it has visible effects, such as Yoda lifting a spaceship. In the case of physics the electromagnetic field is responsible for magnets feeling each other’s presence and for connecting you with the world through a mobile phone.

As much as flower fields can wave in the wind, physical fields oscillate, too: instead of setting daisies free in the air, they liberate particles, sometimes in entangled couples, letting them exist for a blink of an eye before they disappear again in the expanse of the field. Hawking understood that for fields around black holes the reabsorption of the particle pairs would not go as unnoticed as the emission: if one of them were sucked by the black hole, the other would be able to fly away, free from its former binding companion.

For more on entangled particles as loving companions, see my newest rhymes. This work of art is “Entanglement”, by artist Anna Chromy, which “features the beliefs of the artist in its baroque composition mixed with the erotic appearance of bodies enjoying the antics of love and dance. The amazing excellence of the work is noticeable in the undulating figures which are, simultaneously, real and imaginary. The movement of the lovers portrays the perspective of their dancing in a marriage that is both rational and personal. Their dance turns into a dance of 4 bodies and not just a pas-de-deux. Enveloping these figures, Chromy has generated a womb-like environment that encompasses these forms in a textural life of lumination and darkness.”

The particle ending up inside the black hole is such that, by swallowing it, the black hole takes a loss in energy, thus reducing its mass. The particle escaping to infinity instead has a temperature, so from afar it looks like the black hole emitted heat, which cost it work: in due time (a very large one) the black hole would sweat itself away or, as Hawking and Co say, it would evaporate.

Unfortunately, the energy regurgitated in this way by the black hole carries no information about what its meal has been. It would seem there’s no way to know what made the black hole sweat, hence the information loss paradox: information should not be destroyed but just transformed, like energy (if you understand French there’s a science poem of mine about energy I’d like to suggest).

If information is not destroyed, where does the black hole hide it then? Hawking has just proposed something in accordance to others before him, that information is stored on the black hole horizon, the surface of no return if you incidentally crossed it. This is a big deal for a very good reason that we can all understand. Imagine you were at the library and you were wondering how many interesting stories and theories and facts were written inside those thick books, on their millions of pages. You’d be surprised if the librarian, some Jacob Bekenstein, came to you and said that, in his library, books wear their stories on their jackets only: they do not need pages for storing their tales. That’s exactly what the late Prof. Bekenstein had found about black holes’ storage habits in the ’60s, before Hawking contributed his pieces to the puzzle.

I think this account is enough to give you an idea of what is keeping Hawking and colleagues’ mind in check; if you want to deal with the matter further see the “Backreaction” blog. Last but not least, in case you had other metaphors useful to convey a sense of the many weird features of black holes, do not hesitate to let me know, either in private or through the comments.

Arrivederci, Professore

Ieri, 30 settembre 2015, è scomparso Guido Altarelli, professore di fisica e a lungo ricercatore del CERN. Qui di seguito il mio personalissimo ricordo dello scienziato e dell’uomo.

Il professor Altarelli riceve due dei numerosi riconoscimenti che la sua pioneristica attività di ricerca gli ha meritato (

Ecco la prima parola che ho pronunciato leggendo la notizia della sua scomparsa. Era già buio e stavo x lasciare il mio ufficio qui al Politecnico di Losanna. Ora lavoro qui, Professore, dove l’ho incontrata per la prima volta: lei ci ha tenuto il corso di Fisica oltre il Modello Standard durante il mio dottorato all’Università di Ginevra. Quello non era il mio campo e temevo che non avrei capito molto ma mi dissi che Guido Altarelli andava sentito almeno una volta nella vita di un fisico teorico come aspiravo ad essere. Con l’impazienza di incontrare per la prima volta un gigante mio connazionale e “collega”, venni alla sua prima lezione. Rimasi sorpreso di scoprire che lei era un gigante anche nel senso letterale del termine; ciononostante la trovai subito simpatico e alla mano, forse anche grazie a quell’accento romano che condividiamo nel parlare Inglese e Francese. Quello che mi stupì di più però furono i suoi occhi, anzi lo sguardo.
Se non ricordo male lei era appena andato in pensione dal CERN oppure stava per andarci. Eppure i suoi occhi erano ancora pieni di passione e curiosità per quella materia per la quale anche io come lei ho fatto una scelta di vita personale oltreché professionale. In questo credo fossimo veramente colleghi. Al corso lei ci spiegava i misteri del curioso mondo microscopico con la stessa vitalità e partecipazione con la quale un bambino racconta i giochi fatti all’asilo: c’è lui in quei giochi, non li ha “fatti”, li ha vissuti. Così lei, che ha inaugurato linee di ricerca che hanno fatto scuola e porteranno per sempre il suo nome. In questi giorni me le riguarderò cercando di capirle meglio e, come me, spero anche altri nostri connazionali.
Lascerò ad altri fisici spiegare i motivi tecnici per i quali lei era un motivo di orgoglio nazionale. Io mi limiterò a citare il fatto che mi sarebbe piaciuto che me li raccontasse lei di persona: era infatti un mio grande desiderio intervistarla, proprio per cercare insieme a lei di raccontare una storia che spiegasse a chi mi legge quali sono le scoperte con il suo nome, a che sono servite e come è stata l’avventura umana che ha portato a scalare quelle vette.
Ora sarà la stanchezza di fine giornata o la confusione dei tristi pensieri ma non ricordo se gliela feci questa proposta. Guarderò più tardi tra le mie email, dove cercherò elementi in più per vivere appieno la nostalgia della sua scomparsa. So però per certo che ci troverò un nostro scambio riguardo ai diagrammi di Feynman: io stavo scrivendo un articolo che ne parlasse in termini visivi, quasi artistici, come di uno strumento che ha potuto facilitare le ricerche sfociate nella scoperta del bosone di Higgs in quanto nuovo dizionario della comunicazione tra fisici. Lei non fu esattamente entusiasta di questo mio taglio: forse le scrissi a uno stadio troppo prematuro perché l’idea, sicuramente non convenzionale, potesse essere valutata nella sua pienezza. Ad ogni modo feci tesoro dei chiarimenti che lei volle fornirmi: ne ho tratto spunto per un progetto successivo che andava più nella direzione del rigore da lei preferita. La collaborazione che avevo messo in piedi per questo progetto si è interrotta per cui non è ancora concluso. Mai dire mai però: quando lo riprenderò sono sicuro che lei saprà ispirarmi ulteriormente, anche se purtroppo stavolta non sarà di persona.
Arrivederci, Professore!


What I do you feel
What you think for me is real
There is no you without me
There is just one for us to be 

We were born at once
Separated ever since
I know you coz I know me
But I long for you to be
Here with me there’s a place
For you to stay and slow your pace 

When back we gather
We will shimmer
A flash of light
A joy so bright
For none to see
But you and me 

We breathe together
Thou apart
We’re one heart
… for ever 

“Entanglement”, by artist Anna Chromy, features the beliefs of the artist in its baroque composition mixed with the erotic appearance of bodies enjoying the antics of love and dance. The amazing excellence of the work is noticeable in the undulating figures which are, simultaneously, real and imaginary. The movement of the lovers portrays the perspective of their dancing in a marriage that is both rational and personal. Their dance turns into a dance of 4 bodies and not just a pas-de-deux. Enveloping these figures, Chromy has generated a womb-like environment that encompasses these forms in a textural life of lumination and darkness.

SuperQuark 2.0

Ieri sera è ricominciato SuperQuark o, per lo meno, questa è stata la prima puntata che ho visto della nuova stagione: vivendo all’estero seguo la nostra tv poco e da lontano.

Confesso che mi sono un po’ annoiato. Per carità, i servizi sono ben fatti e trattano temi abbastanza interessanti ma tutto mi sembra uguale a quando ho cominciato a seguire la trasmissione da bambino trent’anni fa (30!). Squadra vincente non si cambia? Sicuramente ma non posso fare a meno di ricordare un’intervista che Paolo Bonolis rilasciò al Corriere della Sera poco prima del Natale 2012. Alla fatidica domanda su quale fosse il suo sogno nel cassetto, Bonolis rispose qualcosa del tipo: “mi piacerebbe realizzare una versione di SuperQuark tagliata sui giovani: io ci sono cresciuto con questa trasmissione ma è forse giunto il momento di farne una specifica per un pubblico diverso”.

Già me lo sognavo: un programma dove la verve di Bonolis facesse da catalizzatore per portare ai giovani il messaggio e l’esempio che la scienza non è affatto noiosa né fatta solo di numeri e formule; quelli ci sono, nessuno lo discute, ma hanno lo stesso ruolo delle note in musica: sono uno strumento non l’essenza. Provai a contattare Paolo Bonolis per discutere di questa sua idea che combaciava perfettamente con la mia passione e competenza. Ero appena tornato dal mio biennio lavorativo in USA, diviso tra ricerca e divulgazione. Avevo osservato e imparato tanto, il che mi aveva permesso di sviluppare anche delle idee mie originali. Condivido qui oggi queste mie idee, ipotizzando una collaborazione tra Bonolis come conduttore a 360 gradi e me come referente scientifico.

M’immagino, ad esempio, di presentare e discutere in studio il video di uno spettacolo di ballo sui buchi neri, interpretato da studentesse della facoltà d’arte di una università americana e da me curato quando ero lì come ricercatore. Oppure di ascoltare e commentare insieme al pubblico i suoni dell’universo: dal respiro delle stelle all’osservazione del bosone di Higgs molti dati scientifici sono stati trasposti in chiave musicale anche rock, per non parlare di rapper americani che insegnano nelle scuole come scrivere rime di scienza. Ancora, c’è chi s’ispira alle meraviglie del cosmo per cucinare o disegnare abiti di moda, anche per le firme di grido. Da ultimo, si può ritrovare l’ordine della natura e la bellezza della matematica in murales e opere d’arte come la Notte Stellata di Van Gogh.

Tutti questi esempi servono da spunto per avvicinare l’ascoltatore all’emozione delle scienze, prima che al loro rigore: quest’ultimo, infatti, è perlopiù motivo di paura e allontanamento da parte del pubblico di non esperti. Invece, scoprendo l’aspetto emotivo delle scienze si possono instillare passioni impensate. Così è successo a me quando ero adolescente: i racconti di una mia cugina laureanda in fisica mi hanno sedotto verso quella che sarebbe diventata la mia scelta di vita oltreché di carriera. Sulla base di questa mia esperienza mi piacerebbe vedere usata la tv per proporre ai giovani di oggi una scienza alla loro portata e vicina al loro sentire, affinché la nascita di una passione si trasformi in un’opportunità educativa e formativa della loro persona.

Shall I buy a new smartphone? I’ll ask the stars

No, I do not believe in astrology, at all. It’s just that my iPhone’s started playin’ tricks on me and it’s only 3 years old! Three years might sound like an eternity for a tech item nowadays, especially for a smartphone, the life of which is heavily influenced by fashion and programmed obsolescence. That’s the problem, right there. My iPhone can still do its job quite decently, even without the larger screen or faster chip brain of its successors. Why, then, should I throw away something that isn’t old at all? And where is this “away” exactly?

Don’t tell me you thought of a bin by the roadside! No trash can is the right tomb for your formerly beloved, almost symbiotic appendix that a smartphone has become for many of us today. A desk drawer is not much of a better place either: you are just delegating the problem to a future version of yourself, who would probably still wonder what the matter is with the stars in the title anyway :-)

Even if you’re a fond reader of horoscopes, I bet you’d never met any astrological advice as to when and why buy a new phone. Where do you think a smartphone comes from? Ok, China seems like an obvious answer but, even though I have never been there yet, I’m pretty sure they don’t grow smartphones on trees or in gardens. As you’re perfectly aware, smartphones are assembled in factories … but with what?


If you look at the picture here, you can see how varied the iPhone recipe is in terms of natural ingredients. Wait, did I say “natural”? Yes, I did. The image lists many so-called “chemical elements”, the building blocks Nature uses to make up everything. Among those in the picture the ones you’re probably more familiar with are Aluminum, Iron, Silver, Gold and Oxygen: apart from Oxygen, that you can find in the air you’re currently breathing, the other elements are metals, which are to be found inside Earth. Who put them there? when? and how?

At a very basic level these elements, or “species of stuff”, are not different from you or the chair you are sitting on right now. This chair is probably something you bought from Ikea (at least mine is) and, to this day, you might still remember how hard it was to decipher the instructions to assemble it (at least I do ;-) ). Well, Ikea owes Nature big time, as all the variety of substances you find around are combinations of a very limited amount of building blocks, also called atoms.

It’s a minuscule sort of LEGO, if you will, with very few basic bricks. One can start with a yellow brick and a red one, representing two of the fundamental particles called quarks: yellow for the “up” quark and red for the “down” quark.

The LEGO bricks representing two of the  elementary particles called quarks.

The basic LEGO bricks that can be chosen to represent two of the fundamental particles called quarks (image credits: Queen Mary University of London, School of Physics and Astronomy,

Quarks attract each other so strongly that, at the level of atomic nuclei, they tightly bound themselves in triplets, which are the more familiar protons and neutrons.

Protons and neutrons described by means of LEGO bricks

Protons and neutrons represented by means of three LEGO bricks, one for each constituent quark (image credits: Queen Mary University of London, School of Physics and Astronomy,

Then you’re almost done: the recipe for an atom only needs you to add electrons, to neutralize the overall electric charge brought by protons, which are positive; neutrons, as their name says, do not have an electric charge. Representing electrons by means of unitary white bricks you can easily build your model for Hydrogen and Helium, the two least demanding chemical elements in terms of required building blocks.

Hydrogen and Helium, the two simplest atoms in terms of the required ingredients.

Hydrogen and Helium, the two simplest atoms in terms of the required assembling blocks (image credits: Queen Mary University of London, School of Physics and Astronomy,

This description in terms of LEGO bricks is very useful to visualize something that can only be seen with detectors much more powerful than our eyes. To have a sense of the scale of an atom there is this descriptive video from TED, which also hints at the fact that electrons are not sitting on top of the atomic nucleus, as in the LEGO model. Moreover, to see how scientists progressively acquired this detailed description of atoms, there is another TED video you might want to look at:

What the LEGO model makes easy to understand is that more massive atoms require more building blocks for assembly: as much as a LEGO box provides you with a large but finite number of bricks of each type, so does Nature with the constituents of atoms. In the case of LEGO bricks it is a factory setting but what about Nature’s atomic factories?

Because protons are charged particles, in order to pack them together in the minuscule volume of a nucleus, you need to outdo their electric repulsion. To understand how this is done, think about taking a bus in peak hours, when you and your fellow commuters have barely enough space around to breath: when someone moves, everyone does. At every stop you hope passengers would get off but instead there are more people willing to board the car: unless someone pushes back, they squeeze in and carve some space for them. When this happens the temperature rises, in both figurative and physical sense. This should give you an image of the two forces that play a role in the assembly of atomic nuclei: the aforementioned electric repulsion (the traveling passengers repelling each other’s presence) and the strong version of the nuclear force (the commuters that make it in at a new stop). To reach and manage the high temperature needed to cook an atom Nature uses stars as blast furnaces.

It is not by chance that the process is called fusion: in the following picture you can see a sketch of how this goes for the case of Carbon, again using LEGO.

A model for how Nature forges massive atomic nuclei: Three Helium nuclei fuse together to give a Carbon nucleus.

A model for how Nature forges massive atomic nuclei in the hot cores of stars: after being stripped of electrons, three Helium nuclei fuse together to give a Carbon nucleus (image credits: Queen Mary University of London, School of Physics and Astronomy,

Besides forming diamonds, Carbon is the basis for life, so we should thank stars for being around. In fact, even though the Universe was very hot and dense in its infancy, its expansion caused its cooling faster than it could form but a slew of atomic nuclei.

Together with Carbon stars gave us the Gold in our rings, the Calcium in our bones, the Iron and Oxygen in our blood and even the fluorine in our toothpaste. To cook Gold for example, you need 79 electrons and 79 protons (remember we said particles with opposite charges had to be present in the same amount for balance) and 118 neutrons. And that’s just insofar as ingredients are concerned. Then you’d have to bake them to obtain one atom of Gold and do so for at least a million billion billion of times (your ring contains a lot of atoms and there are many married couples around). This baking is done by stars through successive phases, which depend on the nuclear fuel and even include explosions! These bursts are responsible for disseminating heavy elements in the Universe, a sort of cosmic pollination that makes atoms such as Gold available to planets like Earth.

The relative abundance of chemical elements on Earth: Iron's symbol is

The relative abundance of chemical elements on Earth: Iron’s symbol is “Fe” in the center of the image, Gold is “Au” … can you find it?

Other than being used for wedding rings, Gold is very useful for tech devices such as our laptops and smartphones: it is a better conductor of electricity than Copper and lasts longer than Silver. This brings us back to the opening issue: should I change my grumpy iPhone? and what should I do to dispose of it properly, given its valuable content and its danger for the environment?

Until we figure a better way to recycle all the goods inside our precious tech appendices, a very compelling alternative is this one, of which I learned attending TEDxCERN last September: Basically you offer your old “useless” smartphone a second life as a tracking device against illegal logging. It really is a wake-up call about our perception of useless and waste: waste is only what we consider as such.

Another avenue I am considering is buying a fair phone, a smartphone that is conceived with an environmental consciousness from the mining of its components, to the social issues of its manufacturing, to the possibility of repairing it yourself and increase its life span, to its disposal.

Among the two, which one is your preferred option?

Chelsea the comet

I’m a comet hunter. I also hunt black holes, Higgs Bosons and the sounds of the cosmos, too. I’m a physicist and I’m so in love with the Universe and its phenomena that I decided to make it my work and life passion ever since I was a teenager.
I once caught a comet: her name’s Chelsea. I hadn’t quite chased her so much as bumped into her. You can catch her, too, actually: she’s not that far in the end, she’s on Earth, she lives in Maryland, USA. That’s where we met in 2012.

I was toward the end of my stay at the homonymous university, in the Physics Department, she had just begun her studies in the Dance Program of the Performing Arts Department, with a second major in Psychology. We didn’t meet for fun, we met for work. Truth be told, it was for the two at the same time, as we’ve both been given the gift of a profession, which gives us so much pleasure doing that it looks more like fun than job or study.
We were involved in the creation of “Gravity”, a dance show about black holes, dense stars and their rhythmic encounters in the cosmos. It was a blast for both: she took pleasure in the challenge of breathing her artistic spirit into those concepts, I was in awe in witnessing formulas coming alive before my very eyes in a wonderfully unusual way.

We took part afterwards but, little did I know, she would again visit my world of science lover every now and then. Just like Halleys Comet, which every 76 years returns to within Earth’s reach in its orbit around the Sun. This feat is part of an answer I gave Chelsea when she reached out to me after a Summer trip:

Hi Umberto! How are you doing?? A friend and I were recently sitting under a clear sky in Guatemala watching shooting stars and contemplating the Universe and we came up with some questions that I think you might be able to answer. Could you help us out? Here are some of our questions:
-Is a shooting star’s trail created by the Earth moving through the cloud of debris that we see?
-Can you tell me more about black holes? What do we know about them? If one person is on either side of a black hole (not inside), can they see through it to the other person?
-Is the brightness of a star that we see determined by the type of star or its distance from Earth, or both?
-Do you need to go somewhere to see a comet? What actually is a comet and how often are they visible?
-Auroras–are they always occurring but just only visible from up north?

Thanks for your time! -Chels

How many times are you invited to talk about what you love with someone who shares the same curiosity and amazement as yours? I could not be any happier! My answer included comments about the differences between shooting stars, comets asteroids and meteorites, details I did not fully know myself, and the role of comets as a source of life on Earth.

A snapshot of the differences among asteroids, comets, meteors and other rocky objets flying in space.

A snapshot of the differences among asteroids, comets, meteors and other rocky objets flying in space.

Strangely, I wasn’t very fast in answering Chelsea’s email: even though my heart had been really warmed by those interesting questions, and the fact that they had been addressed to me, I was carrying a heavy weight on my chest, that was choking my creativity. Since the time I was in the US I had felt very frustrated with not being able to find a job that would allow me to do exactly the things I had done together with Chelsea: talking about the wonders of physics to the public, with and without the use of a verbal language. I thought I had proven enough of my future potential and existing skills: beside the dance show with Chelsea, I had rhymed about the Higgs Boson and conceived a holistic plan for outreach at a research institution.

The status I found myself in resembles what Buddhists would call Hunger, the second of Ten Worlds in Nichiren Buddhism, characterized by unfulfilled desires and greed; one who is experiencing Hunger is never satisfied and unable to utilize desires creatively.
The reason why I brought Buddhism into the picture is again connected with Chelsea. Before writing to me asking about comets and black holes, my own comet had already payed me a visit. Chelsea had reached out to me the previous Summer to bounce ideas off each other about an exciting project of hers: “Unraveling: Discovering the Interconnection Between Science, Religion, and Art“, which explores the interconnection between Nichiren Buddhism and the fundamentals of String Theory through somatic experience in the form of modern dance.
WOW! Just wow! I loved everything about this project: not only science and art were to meet again in one of my favorite ways, dance, but the exploration would now englobe religion, which is often taken to be incompatible with science and wrongly so, in my opinion: see for example the program called “DoSER”, for “Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion”, put forth by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Nichiren Buddhism teaches that people have infinite potential and are capable of attaining enlightenment in their lifetime; its Ten Worlds resemble a spectrum of life states that one can experience in a lifetime: Hell, Hunger, Animality, Anger, Humanity, Heaven, Learning, Realization, Boddhisatvas, and Buddhahood. Each of these worlds has been paired by Chelsea with an aspect of String Theory, starting from the ten dimensions of space necessary to the mathematical consistency of the Theory.
To describe the concept of different spatial dimensions, Chelsea writes about me in her paper, I used the everyday event of transitioning from laying down, to walking, to dancing, as an example to demonstrate the increased planes of movement with each dimension. This theme can be seen in the dance by the increase in movement physicality as the piece progresses.
Concerning the interplay between the Ten Worlds and String Theory Chelsea made inspired choices such as the following.

The first of the four upper Worlds is Learning, which is comprised of awakening to the concept of impermanence and overcoming the tendency of unhealthy attachment. Because of this, the dancers are moving and exploring separately. The String Theory phenomenon demonstrates that at the smallest scale imaginable, that of a string, space-time loses any smoothness and becomes frothy, messy, disconnected, and sporadic. The imagery of this “quantum soup” idea is depicted through the dancers’ chaotic and energetic movements using their own strings.

The Ninth World is Bodhisattvas, which is characterized by exercising the belief that all people can attain Buddhahood, which is the Tenth World. The life state of Bodhisattvas relieves suffering in the self and others, which leads to happiness. I chose to pair this uplifting world with the idea that different particles are formed by different vibration frequencies, which result in colored strings. The vibrant-colored ribbons with which the dancers moved represent these bright, dancing, energetic strings.

Enough with words, here’s the video of the performance.

I hope you liked the dance show: I was very proud of Chelsea’s work when I first saw it soon after its release in 2013. I’ve been dreaming of writing about it ever since but only recently come out of my Hunger world to be able to do so. In fact, I’ve just found the dream job I was looking for! I’ll be working for a project titled “School to Mars”, where I will conceive teaching supports for middle-school students inspired by the Red Planet, in collaboration with their teachers at the International School of Geneva, the staff of the Swiss Space Center and the researchers of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

I’ve struggled a lot to find such a good professional fit to my skills, even at the level of personal growth. It might not be an accident then that, together with this important though external event in my life, I’ve recently found the “relief from suffering in the self and others, which leads to happiness” that characterizes the Ninth World of Nichiren Buddhism.

As of Chelsea, she’s doing great things at the University of Maryland, working on a fusion of both her curricular interests: art and psychology; she’s developing a program called “Dance/Movement Psychotherapy“, which is the psycho-therapeutic use of movement to further the emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of the individual.
The program aims at “Facilitating Nonverbal Communication and Experiential Learning in Low Socioeconomic Status, Spanish-Speaking Students” and will take place at the Spanish Education Development Center, which is a bilingual school in Washington, DC for low income children who speak English as a second language. It aims to help students who struggle with aggression, interpersonal relations, and emotional intelligence to learn English and become both socially integrate and emotionally aware.
Chelsea will apply her research findings from this program to the arts school that she’s starting in rural Los Andes, Guatemala in 2015-2016: that’s where she goes when courses and exams are over, for so called “alternative breaks”.

With Summer coming she might be off to a new break of social engagement. Before leaving I hope she finds time to apply to an artistic residency program at CERN, in Geneva, where I happen to live: it could well be that my comet is due to pay me another visit soon and I’m so looking forward to that ;-)

Further References

In case you didn’t know, humanity has caught a space comet for real: the European Space Agency has recently landed on a comet, first time in history! Here is the sound of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (that’s its name): from another world … literarily! And here’s how it looks like


Last but not least, if you don’t believe black hole hunters exist, you can read about them here at New York Times.

Today we make history

Today the Large Hadron Collider at CERN restarts doing its business: colliding particles. How this works is best explained in this video from PhD Comics. As the video says, having energy is like having money: you can buy stuff. It’s like going to a restaurant and being able to buy dishes you never had the money for; the nice thing is that you do not know what those dishes are: it is as if the ingredients had not existed before you had enough money to order those dishes.

And that is also why today is so important. Until today we have never had so much energy to magnify the behavior of Nature at very small distance. Such a behavior has only been present once in the history of the Universe, some 14 billion years ago, when the cosmos was so young it only measured a teeny tiny speck, smaller than anything you have a feeling for.

So today CERN brings us back to those times, to see what was there before our atoms even existed. Today we go witness an untold chapter of the tale of our Universe. Today we travel back in time, today we make history!