Now reading: Portrait gallery: Quantum scientists as drawn by artist Jayne Reich

Portrait gallery: Quantum scientists as drawn by artist Jayne Reich

When artist Jayne Reich accompanied her physicist husband to Perimeter Institute in the summer of 2016, she decided to embark on a singular project at the intersection of art and science.

Neil turok crop

At a program on quantum foundations anchored around the work of Yakir Aharonov, artist Jayne Reich set up an impromptu studio in Perimeter’s Reflecting Lounge. She invited all the scientists in attendance to sit for portraits, executed in chalk on black paper that mimicked chalkboards, the universal medium of creativity in theoretical physics. Each subject chose their own colour of chalk

As she drew, she drew her sitters out, discussing where they get their ideas, and each was invited to add a significant equation or signature to the piece. Here is a selection of the portraits.

Sir Anthony Leggett, Nobel Prize winner and Professor, University of IllinoisAnthony Leggett portrait

Lev Vaidman, Professor, Tel Aviv University

Lev Vaidman portrait
“Bohr forbade us to ask where was a particle inside an interferometer. Wheeler was brave to suggest a definition: the particle was on the trajectory through which it could pass. I also believe that we can talk about the past of a quantum particle, but not in the way Wheeler did. The correct description of the place where the particle affects other system is the overlap of the forward and backward evolving quantum wave functions introduced by Aharonov, Bergmann, and Lebowitz in 1964. I put the diagram on the picture because it demonstrates surprising case of noncontinuous path which I confirmed with a team in Tel Aviv by an actual experiment in which we “asked” photons passing through the interferometer: Where they have been?”

Bill Unruh, Professor, University of British Columbia

Bill Unruh portrait.
“One of the key aspects of creativity in science is to balance intense self-criticism (to make sure that you know all the holes in your idea before anyone else does) and trying to find a way through the swamp of confusion/errors and just technical difficulties. I usually find myself redoing all calculations many, many times, since I am constantly making mistakes. But one cannot stop until one really is sure that one has it right. The equation in the portrait is the link between temperature and acceleration that I found many years ago.”

Neil Turok, Director, Perimeter InstituteNeil Turok portrait

Jeff Tollaksen, Director, Institute of Quantum Studies, Chapman UniversityJeff Tollaksen portrait

Taylor Patti, Chapman University

Taylor Patti portrait
“Much like the crafting of a portrait, the coaxing of new physical understanding is often regarded as a terse and solitary pursuit, when in reality it is the inevitable product of genuine joy and collaboration among like-inspired folks. Honest assessment of my physics research and straightforward, even downright audacious explanations of my findings, are required if I am to truly contribute to our comprehension of nature in its most fundamental forms. The portrait showed me as only I know myself, with both mind and eyes thinking and with empty hands waiting.”

Sandu Popescu, Professor, University of BristolSandu Popescu portrait

Carlo Rovelli, Professor, Universite de la Mediterranee – Centre de Physique Theorique de LuminyCarlo Rovelli portrait

Ismael Paiva, Chapman UniversityIsmael Paiva portrait

Clair Dai, mathematics student, University of Waterloo

Clair Dai portrait
“Math creation does not only relate to the intelect. A true aesthetic feeling is necessary when a mathematician wants to do some beautiful math. More specifically, one must keep all elements harmoniously in mind so that the mind can realize both totality and details without effort, to express the beauty and elegance of math.”

Lucien Hardy, Faculty member, Perimeter Institute

Lucien Hardy portrait
“Art is a powerful way of representing and thinking about reality. Then the artist and subject are part of the process. Each influences the other. Sitting for Jayne was like being part of a quantum experiment, but on the unfamiliar side of the Heisenberg cut.”

Yutaka Shikano, Visiting Assistant Professor at Institute for Quantum Studies, Chapman University

Yutaka Shikano portrait
“Inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe quote, our quantum-mechanical one is: Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by pre-selection, by post-selection, by amplification, that we get at the real meaning of quantum mechanics.
This is the weak value.”

Andrew Briggs, Professor of Nanomaterials, University of OxfordAndrew Briggs portrait

Francesca Vidotto, Radboud University

Francesca Vidotto portrait
“My hands are offering you my collaboration and all my passion for the mysteries of the universe. From my hands, my craftsmanship, a whole universe can take shape. In the theory I work with, loop quantum gravity, the whole universe collapses and then bounces back into the expanding universe that we observe today. The geometry at the bounce is a quantum geometry, described mathematically by a net of lines connecting the quanta of spacetime. Modelling the shape of the universe requires craftsmanship – a mathematical craftsmanship – but comes always first from a vision, very much in the same way of an artistic creation.”

Ali Nayeri, Assistant Professor, Chapman University

Ali Nayeri portrait
“Looking at the portraits, the superposition of talents, curiosity, and discovery is witness to the unique moments as Perimeter and IQS come together.”

Matt Leifer, Assistant Professor, Chapman University

Matt Leifer portrait
“Keeping still for a portrait is like a meditation, where you can either get lost in your own thought or go with the flow and lose your sense of self completely. It is a bit like my feelings about quantum theory, where the obvious need for science to describe an objective reality is in tension with the predictions of the theory, which can only describe the world from the perspective of an observer. It seems like we cannot contemplate both at the same time. We need both points of view and both states of being, and we need to reconcile them somehow. The yin-yang of the Greek letter lambda, the symbol for an objective state of reality, and rho, the symbol for a subjective state of knowledge, represent my attempts towards such a unification.”

Aephraim Steinberg, Quantum physicist, University of TorontoAephraim Steinberg portrait

Avshalom Elitzur, Associate Professor, Israel Institute of Technology and Weizmann Institute of Science

Avshalom Elitzur portrait
“Posing for Jayne is always a unique experience. She is not going to draw your as you are – after all, she is an artist, not a photographer. Rather, she draws what she sees in you in her in her eyes. And these eyes are very special: perceptive, inquisitive and above all, compassionate. I don’t think she was trying to flatter me, as one may conclude from the picture being nicer than reality. It is more like that Jayne is capable of seeing the person that you want to be, and then just hands it to you and to the world.”


Armen Gulian, Chapman UniversityArmen Gulian portrait

Robert Spekkens, Faculty member, Perimeter InstituteRobert Spekkens portrait

Lidia del Rio, University of BristolLidia del Rio portrait



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