By James Dacey
This week the Welsh pop star Charlotte Church (right) has released her latest EP entitled Four. In a conversation with New Scientist, Church explained that the EP’s opening track “Entanglement” was in fact named after the quantum-mechanical phenomenon known affectionately to physicists as “spooky action at a distance”. She has since told BBC Wales that she may well take her interest in science to the next level by studying for a physics degree.
There are of course several really famous people who are more directly connected with physics, having studied the subject in some form before going on to become luminaries in other fields. Examples include the Queen guitar-god Brian May, and arguably the most powerful woman in the world the German chancellor Angela Merkel. But Church is one of a new brigade of celebrities who are discovering the joys of physics after having already reached stardom for other abilities. The armchair psychologist might suggest that learning about the mechanics of the cosmos offers a refreshing alternative to the shallow nature of life that often comes with the celebrity lifestyle, or at least our view of it as presented by the media.
So for “outing yourself” as a physics nerd we salute you Charlotte. Here is a list of celebrities who beneath the surface are in actual fact quantum physicists in disguise.
The US megastar, perhaps best known as one of the founding members of Black Eyed Peas, has long talked about science and technology with the same passion he talks about music. In 2012 he became the first person to have their song played on Mars, when his single “Reach for the stars” was premiered by the Mars Curiosity rover. Mr I.am has since revealed that he wants to return to university to study computer science because he is fascinated by the ideas of quantum mechanics.
2. Charlotte Church
Within the space of a few years Charlotte Church went from childhood classical music sensation to red-top-newspaper regular. Her successful shift into pop music in the mid-2000s was documented in excessive detail by a British tabloid media obsessed with her personal life and her every night out on the town. But in recent times Church has been re-establishing herself as a serious artist, with the release of a series of EPs with a more alternative rock sound. The latest in this series, Four, is inspired by science, including the tracks “Entanglement” and “Death and mathematics”.
3. Anne Hathaway
The Hollywood actress has been quoted many times expressing her joy of physics. “Any spare time I have, I bury my head in a physics textbook,” she told GQ magazine in an interview in March 2010. “I’m reading a lot about Einstein. I like theories. I want to understand string theory. I’m dying for someone to explain quarks to me!” The star of The Devil Wears Prada was at it again in December of that year, telling the Telegraph that she was learning about string theory in her spare time by reading Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe. Let’s hope it wasn’t just Anne’s thing for 2010 and she has maintained her interest in fundamental science.
4. Tiger Woods
Whereas others on this list have been happy to promote their new-found quantum geekery, Tiger Woods’ public outing as a physics fan is probably something he wishes never happened. Cast your mind back to 2009 and the media frenzy that surrounded the revelations of his multiple extramarital affairs. You may remember that in late November of that year, Woods crashed his car into a tree during an incident outside his home. To our great surprise, photographed on the floor of his Cadillac Escalade was a copy of none other than Get a Grip on Physics by veteran UK science writer John Gribbin.
Following this bizarre revelation, the paperback, which was out of print, shot up the Amazon sales charts from number 396,224 to 2268 as the last few hundred copies were snapped up by eager punters. We’re not condoning the circumstances that surrounded this “physics-fan outing” but we certainly approve of your reading choices Tiger.
5. Mark Everett
The Eels frontman is perhaps not in the public gaze with the same intensity as some of the other celebs mentioned here, but his connection with quantum physics is perhaps the strongest of them all. That is because Mark Everett is the son of physicist Hugh Everett III, the founder of the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics.
A full explanation of Mark’s father’s idea could easily fill an entire book; indeed it has. But the basic idea is that the quantum nature of reality means that multiple outcomes to events can occur simultaneously in different “worlds”. The mindboggling consequence of the logic is that there could be alternative human histories, whereby people evolved to have three heads and/or bright blue skin.
Mark was never close to his father, who died of a heart attack when Mark was still a teenager. But in 2007 the critically acclaimed musician unearthed a hoard of his father’s possessions with the assistance of the investigative journalist Peter Byrne as part of a BBC documentary. Byrne wrote about the experience in a feature for a 2010 feature for Physics World and he also presented this special online lecture for physicsworld.com.
Over to you
This list is by no means exhaustive. So if you can think of any other celebs out there who are quantum physicists in disguise then please let us know. We are looking for you to share the names of famous people who have expressed an interest in physics. Or you may identify celebs whom you believe have an inner physicist waiting to be outed. Either post a comment on this article or let us know on Twitter using the hashtag #quantumcelebs.
Also, if you want to find out more about quantum mechanics and its enduring appeal: