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The Physics of Music and the Music of Physics

Artwork titled Entangled Atoms by Boris Blinov
Credit: Boris Blinov

Christopher Monroe
Joint Quantum Institute
University of Maryland

Rolling ripples of water on the surface of a pond, the brilliant colors of a deep rainbow, and Beethoven's symphonies all come to us in the form of waves. While we all appreciate the beauty of these experiences in life without caring about the underlying physics, they become even more beautiful when we dive into their simple physical and mathematical description. This lecture will explore the generation of sound, what makes sound into music, and how we perceive complex sound waves. An attempt will be made to connect music to a different sort of wave physics that appears at the atomic scale: quantum mechanics. While it is difficult to experience quantum waves in the same way as music, there are many interesting analogies between the two, involving measurement, perception, and superposition.

Anyone outside NIST wishing to attend must be sponsored by a NIST employee and receive a visitor badge. For more information, call Kum J. Ham at 301-975-4203.

Colloquia are videotaped and available in the NIST Research Library.

Created October 23, 2009, Updated January 3, 2017