It’s always great when one of the good guys is justly rewarded. The Nobel Committee put a smile on many faces this morning when it announced that Louis Brus was among the winners of this year’s Chemistry Prize. I had the great fortune to know him in the early 1990s during my postdoctoral years at the old Bell Labs. I did not work with him directly but I was in the same organization, talked to him many times over coffee and at the famed “lunch table.” Always a respected scientist, he had achieved interdisciplinary fame in the late 1980s for initiating the quantum dot work recognized today. Despite the then-accolades, he was always gracious, patient, and willing to listen. When it came time for me to leave the Labs, he reviewed my research statements, listened to my practice job-talks, and gave me excellent advice. Although postdocs had a principal collaborator/sponsor, the culture was that we were the responsibility of the institution. We could go anywhere, walk into any office, and get the attention of the top person or people in any field. That industrial lab was everything a great University wants to be and I still can’t believe I got to experience it. It was taken for granted that Louis would go to Stockholm and frankly, it is long overdue.
Clockwise from center: Erika Soto, Trisha Miller, Rafael Goldstein, Cassandra Marie Murphy. Photo by Craig Schwartz, courtesy A Noise Within Theatre and Lucy Pollak Public Relations
ANW’s tribute to myth, art, and engineering is both visually dazzling and a chutzponic choice for this temporary breather from the pandemic. Water is everywhere – onstage and on the audience – as a gifted cast seamlessly weaves eight stories and a coda from Ovid to impressive stagecraft. The play is sufficiently well-known that there’s no point in recapping the fables-for-grownups by Mary Zimmerman, a brand unto herself. Locally, Stephen Legawiec’s long-departed and much lamented Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble did exceptional service to myth. The Sacred Fools and Coeurage also deliver technical miracles on a budget. Zimmerman ups the ante requiring an onstage pool central to her theme. ANW has built the resources over the years to afford the rights, the engineering, and the resident ensemble to pull it all off. The costs must be astronomical especially for a barely four week run, an oddly appropriate leap-of-faith in art over economics.
Nicole Javier (top) and Rafael Goldstein (bottom). Photo by Craig Schwartz, courtesy A Noise Within Theatre and Lucy Pollak Public Relations
On top of the usual artistic concerns and choices, director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott has to see to the safety of her performers who are feet, knees, and backs in the water as much as they are out of it. This is no mean feat given costumes (Garry Lennon), props (Shen Heckel), walking continuously on a wet stage, and a disease spread by droplets. The company has hewn to its resident artist model (six of the nine performers) although it seems to have gone away from its roots in repertory. It is interesting to note the changing of the guard having followed the company closely in the 90s to mid 2000s and sporadically thereafter. Geoff Elliott remains a constant of the motion with Rafael Goldstein and Erika Soto now regular members along with unfamiliar faces with extensive company and classical credits. That Shakesperean training pays off handsomely with uniformly rich, resonant, and nuanced voices inhabiting instead of reciting the text. It’s a heady mix of comedy, drama, pathos, and bathos. Trisha Miller is excellent as Alcyone, Sydney A. Mason as a nasty Aphrodite, and DeJuan Christopher as Ceyx. Elliott is all the fathers; Pythonesque as Helios negotiating with Phaeton (Kasey Mahaffy) as well as Midas and Cinyras navigating daughter problems. The physical demands are great as the cast have to carry one another in and out of the water throughout the piece where one slip could end many careers. The level of trust engendered by long and close collaboration must be off the charts and hard to conceive with a team assembled for one production.
But, oh, that engineering – Francois-Pierre Couture (design), Ken Booth (lighting), and Robert Oriol (sound) – deserves a loud, two-syllable, “Damn!” Even if we take the pool for granted, electricity, water, and people don’t mix. This constrains the high powered lights to surround the stage and there again from safe a distance – yet nothing essential is in shadow. Glowing orbs are undoubtedly enabled by LEDs. Their collective play off the water and onto the walls are a splendid touch – carrying the audience along waves of action floating on Oriol’s effective yet unobtrusive soundscape. And we should not take any of this for granted. Going from page to stage is a tough artistic job but no easier than taking a technical concept through design, build, test, and delivery. ANW’s timelapse shows the large uncredited crew that made it happen and glimpses the kind of backstage preparation area accessible to very few of the city’s theatremakers. Yes, there are a couple of songs but … what are you going to do? Barring extension, only five performances remain so act accordingly.
Note bene: While there are no bad seats at ANW, the raised stage does obscure the water’s surface from the front rows. There is a benefit (and certainly no harm) in going to the middle or even the back of the house. Those up front will get splashed.
It should be no surprise that aging scientists from all fields gravitate (ha!) to astronomy as we get more interested in the grand fates of things. Fortunately there are many sites and channels to scratch that itch, giving us a perhaps too comfortable view of complex material. The life and death of stars is an example where the high level explanations of gravity versus fusion do work but where the many omitted details cause midnight befuddlement. Where does the energy come from? Where does it go? Wait… how fast – Relativistic speeds?
Anonymous Youtuber “But Why?” breaks the barrier with this beautiful video on the collapse of very big stars – the kind that leave neutron stars or black holes in their wake. It isn’t all symmetric implosions and classical rebounds and the thought of a giant object collapsing 5000-km in a tenth of a second boggles the mind. The depth of detail is breathtaking, the amount of research inspiring, and taught me much new physics that I incorrectly thought I already knew.
As the man said after the Eagle landed: “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”
The James Webb Space Telescope, largely designed, built, and tested at Space Park in Redondo Beach, has launched, raised itself from the spacecraft, deployed its 5 layer sunshield, and put its primary and secondary mirrors into place. It will take another few months for the telescope to cool in the shade and then to commission the instruments before science measurements can begin.
It has been a long and contentious wait but the magnitude of this accomplishment is worth celebrating.
I’ve got only a superficial understanding of the revolutionary incompleteness theorems that Gödel brought forth while a preternaturally gifted young man. It will be the work of a remaining lifetime to learn it in any detail but it stimulates periodic revisits. This podcast from the BBC’s In Our Time series smacked my gob when I came across it: A very well-prepared moderator and threedistinguishedscientists discuss its impact. It starts with a punch and soars from then on. Yes, it is true that the posh accents predispose to trust but beyond that it is 40 minutes of serious yet freewheeling fluffless conversation that compels the listener to pay attention in the now and do homework afterward. The presumption on the listener to be prepared, attentive, and engaged is exhilarating. I can’t imagine such an exchange prepared for broadcast in the modern United States even by the remaining cultural outposts like NPR.
Pianist Nahre Sol delightfully explains sixteen levels of pianistic complexity in about ten minutes. That doesn’t mean there are only sixteen but, damn, what a lower bound for the recreational pianist to aspire to!
The Event Horizon Telescope team announces its major discovery following two intense and quiet years of data analysis on top of a longer period of development. A nice testament to aperture synthesis and international collaboration as the rest of the world spirals into madness. Damn!!!