Sculptures inspired by quantum physics

 Work Wave5Gallery Images 06C Spinfamily Dad
"Father" from the series "Spin Family (Bosons and Fermions)" 2009, steel and silk, 7" x 6" x 6".

We've posted previously about physicist, software designer, and artist Julian Voss-Andreae whose work lies at the intersection of science and sculpture. Last year, he created a massive metal protein sculpture linked to Leonardo's Vitruvian Man. Now, Julian has made 30 objects inspired by his former physics research area of quantum physics. The objects are currently on display at the American Center for Physics in College Park, Maryland. More images and background on the work after the jump.

From Voss-Andreae's artist statement:
The term "Quantum Object", although regularly used in physics, is really an oxymoron. An 'object' is something that lives completely in the paradigm of classical physics: It has an independent reality in itself, it behaves deterministically, and it has definite physical properties, such as occupying a well-defined spot in time and space. For the 'quantum' all those seemingly self-evident truths become false: Its reality is one that is relative to the observer, the principle of causality is violated, and other features of materiality such as clear boundaries in space and time, objective locatedness or even identity, do not pertain.
 Work Wave5Gallery Images 04 Prayer 2Up
Above: "Prayer (Head sketch for Quantum Woman 2)", 2009, masonite, paper, and steel hardware 14" x 11" x 10" ; Below: "Night Path" (detail), 2009, painted steel and gold thread, 18" x 19" x 6"

More from Voss-Andreae:

 Work Wave5Gallery Images 03B Nightpath Detail After struggling with quantum physics for the last hundred years we cannot escape the fact that there simply are no consistent mental images we can create to understand the world as it is portrayed in quantum physics, because our brains are exquisitely adapted to making sense of the world on our scale, as perceived through our unaided senses. My hope is that the unique ability of art to transcend the confines of logic and literal representation and to offer glimpses of something beyond can help us open up to a deeper understanding of the world and to wean ourselves from the powerful grip classical physics has had over the last centuries on our every perception of reality.
Quantum Objects


  1. Interesting stuff. Did you know that nearly 100 years ago modernist artists like Naum Gabo were making sculptures based on Einstein’s theory of relativity (cutting edge back then)?

  2. Much as I enjoy seeing work ‘inspired’ by quantum physics, I inevitably end up feeling slightly annoyed with the unjustified statements that typically accompany them. I suppose this is to be expected as my PhD thesis was on, essentially, programming quantum computers. It took me a full year of study (on top of a regular maths/physics background) to start to get my head around the ideas involved, and it’s not really fair to expect professional artists to reach a similar level of understanding.

    Still, for the record, I must disagree with the statement “there simply are no consistent mental images we can create to understand the world as it is portrayed in quantum physics”. The Bloch sphere is one example of a perfectly consistent mental image to understand certain aspects of quantum physics.

    It’s certainly not easy to understand how that abstract idea relates to reality, but we can (empirically!) satisfy ourselves that it does relate perfectly well, and we are then free to use that visual analogy to ‘understand’ certain quantum processes in a very real sense.

    Then again, perhaps I misinterpret what’s meant by ‘understand’. As the Feynman quote goes, “Anyone who says that they understand Quantum Mechanics does not understand Quantum Mechanics,” and he should know.

  3. @metatime, From the artist’s bio:

    “Voss-Andreae pursued his graduate research in quantum physics, participating in a seminal experiment demonstrating quantum behavior for the largest objects thus far.”

  4. Oooh metatim. Want to see something that uses only pure connections to work?

    Here is a math problem that illustrates what I can do with one command, and utilizes absolutely no math:

    (and yes, I came up with the math problem – funny part is one solution uses Pascal’s Triangle, and no, I did not solve it)

    I think I can say I can do anything with just connections.

  5. Answer to what? How our brains work?

    The best answer I have is our brains are wired through infinite possible connections. How to harness infinity is not what I understand, but I can harness pure connections that possibly could utilize infinite states.

    If anything, I know that current quantum computing tries to harness infinite states in a simplistic duo state. This is not utilizing the quantum state as it is in nature.

    Referencing: – this is an excellent document on quantum computing and quantum information theory, written by Andrew Steane:

    “The new version of the Church-Turing thesis (now called the ‘Church-Turing Principle’) does not refer to Turing machines. This is important because there are fundamental differences between the very nature of the Turing machine and the principles of quantum mechanics. One is described in terms of operations on classical bits, the other in terms of evolution of quantum states. Hence there is the possibility that the universal Turing machine, and hence all classical computers, might not be able to simulate some of the behavior to be found in Nature. Conversely, it may be physically possible (i.e. not ruled out by the laws of Nature) to realize a new type of computation essentially different from that of classical computer science. This is the central aim of quantum computing.”

  6. To metatim:

    I find your arrogant put-down of Julian Voss-Andreae annoying. The artist’s bio, as well as his excellent commentary itself reveal that he is fully qualified to make such commentaries.

    And in fact, what Voss-Andreae writes is factually correct: a fully satisfactory realist description, pictorial or verbal, of what e.g. an electron IS, has proven to be impossible. Your supposed counter-example, the Bloch sphere, merely represents a mathematical description of certain features of this model (as does e.g. any image of a wave-function); but it does not describe what the quantum “object” IS, in any realist sense of the word. And that is what the artist was, correctly, stating.

  7. To georgeweis (and indeed DP):

    On rereading, it’s clear to me that in my haste to take offense I skimmed straight past the relevant text. Hopefully I can learn from that. I’m less likely to learn not to post while ill and deficient in sleep, as I’m evidently doing that again right now.

    It still seems to me that there’s an interesting argument to be had here – indeed, I did at least acknowledge that I may have misinterpreted the intended meaning of ‘understand’ – but I think it would be best if I left any such attempt to a (near?) future version of me that would be better placed to do so.

    I come to much the same conclusion when considering johnphantom’s problem.

Comments are closed.