Henry Lau, editor of physics.org, shares his experience of playing a part in the Paralympics Opening Ceremony.
With the discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN, Curiosity surviving its seven minutes of terror and physics’ central role in the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympics, it has been an awesome summer for physics.
For me, personally, the latest of these – the Paralympics Opening Ceremony – was particularly prodigious. With no knowledge that physics would be a central theme during the Ceremony but with a passion for dance and a belief that the Games would be great for London, I auditioned to play a part and was, amazingly, chosen.
It was at our first rehearsal when Bradley and Jenny, the directors, told us what their vision for our section was – gravity – that I felt my two worlds collide. I was amazed, astonished but, overall, just really, really pleased. (If I believed in fate…)
Not only could I now convince my bosses (once the Ceremony was over, of course) that I was actually doing physics outreach while bunking work for rehearsals, I have now been part of something that saw two of my greatest passions come together on a scale that I couldn’t even have imagined six months ago.
So, I was delighted but, when Bradley and Jenny introduced their vision for our section, I could feel a nervousness gather in the room. I discovered, perhaps predictably, that very of the few dancers were confident physicists. How could we translate a concept like gravity into dance? For this brief moment, I felt quite the pro with my understanding of physics. This would, of course, be lost when I stepped on to the ‘dance floor’, surrounded by hundreds of very committed dancers, but just for this moment my physics knowledge was helping me in a situation that I would never have expected it to.
As we learnt the different actions used in the dance, they explained the motivation behind each movement. Being a physicist at heart, most of it, admittedly, I disregarded as artistic filler and a little part of me wanted to correct them for their inaccuracies. Once a physicist…
I realised, however, that I was missing the point. My job is to raise the awareness of physics in the public and the dance moves were just representative. By involving physics so centrally in an event watched by hundreds of millions around the world, many would see for the first time just how beautiful physics is in its ability to reveal the secrets of the Universe.
Physics would be out there on centre stage and celebrated: from Stephen Hawking donning replica Orbital DJ glasses to giant inflatables apples and Ian McKellen peering through a giant telescope, I challenge anyone to imagine a better physics-themed party.
Akin to the Olympics, the legacy is still unknown but I’d put good money on it being a significant contributing factor to the popular resurgence that physics has already been undergoing.
Often when discussing this sort of thing, C.P. Snow’s classic lecture on the “Two Cultures” comes to mind. This event, however, contradicted the stereotype. Science was the inspiration to the art, and the art was being used to showcase science; a wonderful compliment to physics. And an unforgettable experience for me.