Courtesy of Janelle Pietrzak

The Yale Quantum Institute is welcoming a new expert to its ranks this month, and he is not an applied physicist or a computer scientist. Rather, he is an artist known for projects that bridge the arts and sciences.

In the summer of 2017, the Yale Quantum Institute, or YQI, launched its artist-in-residence program — an effort to bridge the gap between the humanities and the sciences by highlighting intersections in these seemingly disparate fields. Every year, the YQI invites a new artist to take part in a yearlong residency program, and this year, the role is going to multimedia artist Paul D. Miller, professionally known as DJ Spooky. During the residency, DJ Spooky will work with students and faculty at the YQI to represent quantum concepts through art.

“I needed to find a way to intellectually break the fear of quantum physics, and so I realized that mixing the arts and humanities was a good way to do it,” Florian Carle, manager of the Yale Quantum Institute, said. “The program is here to help swallow the pill of quantum physics. It’s like, ‘Hey, we have a nice coating. This is art.’ Once you break down this physics phobia, people are really interested in talking about science.”

DJ Spooky is a musician, composer and writer whose projects span the arts and the sciences. Miller has participated in previous residencies at Google Arts & Culture, Stanford University and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He has also written everything from symphonies about forests and Antarctica to a reggae album. At the YQI, he will work with students and faculty alike to represent quantum concepts through art.

Carle said that collaborative projects like these are essential to sparking more interest and involvement in science by making fields like quantum physics — which are often considered intimidating — feel more accessible.

“We’ve seen with the pandemic that people don’t trust science,” Carle said. The artist-in-residence program “is really a matter of trying to combat science phobia” and “communicate about science.”

At the YQI, DJ Spooky is expected to further explore parallels between art and quantum science. Though art and quantum physics may seem fundamentally distant from each other, DJ Spooky discussed the connections between creative projects and the scientific process in an October 2020 TED Salon.

“A song is a sequence of notes, a dataset,” Spooky said. “If you’re a composer that is looking at electronic music, you have to think of tempos, beats, sound and systems.”

One of the projects DJ Spooky will engage in at the YQI is called Quantum Week at Yale, a seven-day program featuring quantum-related events such as technical seminars, career advising, library tours and movie screenings. Racquel Miller, the YQI events director, said DJ Spooky’s work will be featured — alongside other intersectional projects — in an April arts showcase as part of both Quantum Week and an annual New Haven art show.

Since its establishment in 2017, the artist-in-residence program has welcomed two artists to the YQI.

The first resident was visual artist Martha W. Lewis. Racquel Miller said one of Lewis’ projects was a visual representation of Schrödinger’s cat, a famous thought experiment of quantum mechanics.

“[Schrödinger’s cat] would be a little complicated for a lot of people, but [Lewis] was able to set up a visual display that you can actually walk into,” Racquel Miller said.

In 2018, the YQI welcomed its second artist: musician and sound producer Spencer Topel. Like Lewis, Topel explored ways of making the quantum world more understandable — a difficult feat given that humans cannot see, hear or feel quantum processes. Topel’s contribution to the YQI, which Racquel Miller said was revolutionary to the study of quantum physics, involved working with graduate students to process pre-recorded quantum data from superconductive devices, magnify its sound and mix it into audio signals to produce a musical performance.

While Lewis and Topel’s work focused respectively on visual and auditory forms of art, the YQI wanted to integrate these two disciplines through the 2021-22 artist-in-residency program.

“I knew that [DJ Spooky] would be a great fit,” Carle explained. “I wondered if we gave DJ Spooky the quantum tools, what kind of art could he make in collaboration with the students?”

Per Racquel Miller, though his start date is still to be finalized, DJ Spooky could start on campus as soon as next week and will continue working with the Yale community through the end of next summer.

CHARLOTTE HUGHES
ANIKA SETH