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Unique Collaboration Between Music and Physics

As icons go, Albert Einstein was one of a kind - making so many remarkable contributions to so many different areas of physics.

But in addition to his scientific achievements, much is made of Einstein's colourful personal life, not least his life-long passion for music.

That’s the theme of a unique collaboration between Jack Liebeck, recently named young British classical performer of the year at the 2010 Classical BRIT awards, and particle physicist Brian Foster of the University of Oxford. Jack and Brian have created an innovative lecture and musical performance that explores Einstein's legacy to physics and the role music played in his life. The show, called "Einstein's Universe", is currently touring concert halls and schools across the UK.

Now, an exclusive video report on offers online viewers the chance to see the duo in action at a recent performance in St George's concert hall in Bristol. In a wide-ranging interview filmed at the event, Jack and Brian reflect on the ongoing success of the show and ponder a deeper link between physics and music.

Jack says, “They complement each other as disciplines.  It’s very true that a lot of physicists, and generally many scientists and mathematicians, love playing music.  I think it’s difficult to put a finger on the exact link but I think there should be a link between reading a code on a page and turning it into music and, in the day-to-day life of trying to work out what’s going on in their particular disciplines, looking at the codes that come through and deciphering how things are put together.”

Brian suggests a more workaday link between Einstein and his music: “We have indications from [Einstein’s] wife, in a letter, that he often would come out of his study, when they lived in Berlin, scratch his head and play a few chords on the piano, think a bit more, and then go back into his study and write down some of the new ideas he’d had.  

“It is often the case in science that when one thinks deeply about something, has a break doing something different like playing an instrument, this can somehow crystallise one’s thoughts in a new direction and that certainly was an important way that Einstein thought about physics.”


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