The chalkboard is to theoretical physics what crust is to pizza — the canvas on which countless exciting possibilities can be explored.
This week, Physics World pays homage to the noble blackboard, the enduring low-tech medium physicists prefer for teasing out big ideas about the workings of the universe.
The article looks at the ubiquity of blackboards in research centres like Perimeter Institute, and examines how the image of the chalk-dusted physicist at a blackboard has become the iconic depiction of theoretical physics.
“By choosing the blackboard pose as the archetypal image of the physicist, we seem to be saying that physics is inherently cerebral, defined by abstract mathematical ideas inscribed in chalk,” reads the article.
“Blackboard and chalk – like paper and ink – are a combination that modern technologies can’t improve or displace. At the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, they’re an essential element of the design.”
As a companion piece to the article, Physics World has also published a blog post that challenges keen-eyed readers to figure out which branch of theoretical physics is represented on a series of photographs snapped of blackboards around Perimeter.
For example, can you discern whether the image below depicts particle physics, string theory, neural networks, or accretion physics?
Perimeter Institute collaborated with visual artist Alexa Meade in 2015 to explore the relationship between physicists and blackboards in a unique way — by fully immersing two physicists into three-dimensional “living” chalkboard. Check it out: