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Science and art: Rossi on the creative commonalities

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Enrico Rossi will be stepping out of his normal work on spin dynamics, the Kondo effect in nanostructures and the Bilayer Quantum Hall Systems to lecture on one of his pet theories. His assumption is that scientists and artists have much in common.

Whether a person is working with paints, stone, words or theorems, his goal is to create something “beautiful” within a set of imposed constraints, Rossi maintains. It is the constraints, he says, that force the creative solutions.

In his lecture, part of the Saturday Morning Physics series scheduled for March 24 in Small Hall, Rossi, an assistant professor of physics at William & Mary, will touch on a series of well-known creative personalities, including Aristotle, Galileo, Shakespeare and Beethoven, to illustrate how constraints are internally and externally imposed and how artists use them to their advantage.

The lecture will turn on one of Rossi’s favorite “artists,” Einstein. Constraints for scientists, he points out, had been in place since Galileo established the “scientific” method. Within those constraints, Einstein grappled with the widely held notion that light had to travel through a substance, dubbed the luminiferous ether, in a manner similar to which sound traveled through air. When experimentation failed to locate such a substance, Einstein solved the resulting dilemma by composing his theory of special relativity, which redefined the concepts of space and time.

According to Rossi, just as science aims to build a compelling representation of the universe, art also can be thought as a representation of a universe. In addition, both science and art have their own languages and internal self-consistencies. Also, good science and good art require creativity and willingness to go beyond previous constructs.

It is the same part of the brain that is engaged in creating art and science, Rossi says. Indeed, when he looks at promising artists, he often wonders if they, by using the tools of science, could become the next Einsteins.