I first came across the Entanglement picture about 11 years ago. Nearing the end of my year-long visit to the Centre for Quantum Computation in Cambridge (UK), I was returning to Salerno (Italy) to start working on my PhD thesis. As my dissertation was entitled Entanglement of Gaussian states, I decided to include some pictures related to (quantum) entanglement at the beginning of each part. The first few hits for “entanglement” found at the time on Google Images eventually made the cut (check the final version at https://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/0702069) However, one of the images in particular captured my imagination – and stole my heart – so much that I chose it for the best spot: Part II, showcasing the bulk of my original results on bipartite entanglement. The image was a relatively low-res photo of a painting entitled, quite aptly, Entanglement, and taken from the website of its creator, American artist Pamela (Pam) Ott: http://www.hottr6.com/ott/.
I got so excited about the waviness of the lines, the use of complementary colours, the blurred entwining of two bodies which are manifestly inseparable parts of the same entity, that I decided to send an email to Pam asking whether she had any knowledge of quantum mechanics (as well as for her permission to reproduce the picture in my thesis). This was our first contact. Surprisingly, she replied explaining that she was barely aware of the quantum connotations of the term (see these past blog posts for more about quantum entanglement) and she rather painted “from her subconscious”. I was stunned! Judging from that grainy thumbnail, Pam’s painting was, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful and effective ways to showcase the concept of entanglement – perhaps only second to writing actual formulas which, however, do not usually appeal to laypeople as much as art does.
Later in 2007, during a sleepless night as part of my post-doctoral position at Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, I decided to write more about the potential impact of quantum theory on popular culture, focusing specifically on an introduction to entanglement and its metaphorical connections to human feelings. This was my first foray into public outreach, and the resulting essay, The social aspects of quantum entanglement, can be regarded as the forerunner of Quanta Rei. Pam’s painting featured prominently in the piece. The essay turned out to be translated and published in a Catalan magazine of popular culture, Ordint La Trama, in June 2007, where it made the cover story. For the cover image, Pam kindly sent us a gorgeous high-res photo of Entanglement, which has then made its way into many of my talks (both at conferences and public events), and which I later adopted as profile picture for the Facebook page on Quantum Correlations.
By the end of 2008, I was not content with just photos of the painting anymore and asked Pam to buy the real thing. Even though the painting was special to her, she was happy for me of all people to have it. We had even agreed on a price, and she was looking into shipping options, when I got my Lectureship in Nottingham and relocated with my family to the UK. As I was a bit overwhelmed by the move and the new responsibilities at work, and Pam was also moving across different states in the US, our conversation about the painting somehow phased out.
Flash-forward to Spring 2016. The day I got the good news of my promotion to Full Professor, and learned that I would move into a new, bigger office, was the day the craving for Entanglement came back with a vengeance. The picture ought to be hanging there on my wall. I tried the old email address I had for Pam, without success. Luckily, thanks to social networks, I was able to reconnect with her and we have been maintaining a regular contact in the past year. Pam continues to paint on a daily basis and I urge you to browse through her virtual gallery on Flickr and Facebook: you’ll find marvellous sketches and paintings, experimenting with a plethora of styles and colours…
We were still discussing about shipping options with Pam, when the occasion for me to visit the US in person materialised this year in the form of a big conference in San Diego (SPIE Optics + Photonics) that took place two weeks ago, in August 2017, and where both my wife and I could present our work. And here we are, just back from a lovely business & leasure trip to California, including a flash visit to Caltech, which was very inspiring especially for my son thanks to the amazing host Spiros Michalakis of Quantum Frontiers and MARVEL fame.
The secret main reason for me to go on this trip was to finally bring back the Entanglement picture.
I contemplated visiting Pam in person in New Mexico (also taking the chance to do a Breaking Bad tour) but that could not fit our schedule unfortunately. Instead, Pam offered to ship the painting to our hotel in San Diego. I could not believe it until I got a big cardboard box waiting for me at the hotel front desk last week. I tried repeatedly to ask Pam for her bank coordinates, but she surprised me once more saying that, after all these years, she just wanted to gift the painting to me! She also shared more about the history of Entanglement. In her own words:
“Interestingly, I painted it when I was living in San Diego. I took some art classes at a community college there. That was back in 1999. My teacher convinced me to enter it into the art exhibit at the Del Mar Fair and it won first place, I was pleasantly shocked. I will be honored for you to have it, your work/entanglement has always interested me.”
And so by a twist of fate the painting returned to San Diego, where it was born, and was handed into my care. I felt – and feel – so honoured and grateful! The hardest part was to restrain myself from opening the carefully packed box until we got back to Nottingham.
Finally, two days ago, I came face to face with Entanglement in all of its glory. All the tiredness from the long journey disappeared and I immediately ran to my office in the School of Mathematical Sciences and eventually hanged it over my work station.
I am writing this blog post from my office now, raising my eyes to this fantastic and mysterious piece of art, admiring how the colours come to life when caressed by the occasional British summer sunshine. And as it often happens in my personal and professional life, I feel gratified and lucky.
I am sure I will have plenty of chances to further promote the Entanglement picture in future work and outreach events. Speaking of what, I am co-organising a Scientific Discussion Meeting on Foundations of quantum mechanics and their impact on contemporary society at the Royal Society, London, at the end of this year (December 11-12, 2017). Attendance is free, and we have a line-up of impressive speakers, so if you are reading this post feel free to join us and present a poster if relevant!
I won’t bring the Entanglement picture along with me – too much travel for it already – but I will be more than happy to talk about it and in general about the entangling relationship between quantum science and visual arts (see another example in this past blog post).
With special thanks to Pamela Ott Ingate for her encouragement and support and the invaluable gift of Entanglement.
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