Edward Tufte headlines Feynman celebration at Fermilab

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Renowned data visualization master and artist’s exhibit opens in April with a reception and a concert

Edward Tufte next to the famous Feynman van. Photo: Michael Shermer.

Edward Tufte next to the famous Feynman van. Photo: Michael Shermer.

For images of Tufte’s work, please visithttp://www.fnal.gov/pub/tufte/artwork.html.

The gulf between art and mathematics is not nearly as wide as one might think. Just ask famed statistician Edward Tufte, who draws from mathematical concepts – specifically, the computational visualization methods developed by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman – to create beautiful, cerebral works of art.

Beginning on Saturday, April 12, Tufte will show many of his favorite pieces at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., for a 10-week exhibit illuminating the elegant genius of Feynman and his diagrams.

Tufte’s installation, titled The Cognitive Art of Feynman Diagrams, is the centerpiece of a visual and auditory Feynman celebration at the laboratory, one that includes a fascinating lecture, a concert and the display of a very special van and an Airstream trailer, also known as the “Interplanetary Explorer.” The Fermilab site is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.

Tufte himself will be on hand to kick off his exhibit with a reception in Fermilab’s Wilson Hall on Wednesday, April 16, from 5-7 p.m. Tickets to this reception are free, but limited. Visit http://www.fnal.gov/pub/tufte/register.html to register.

“This is going to be an extraordinary set of events here at the laboratory,” said Fermilab Director Nigel Lockyer. “It’s an honor for us to host an artist and designer of Edward Tufte’s prominence and to be able to tie his exhibit into a larger retrospective of the life and work of Richard Feynman.”

Tufte is professor emeritus at Yale University, where he taught courses in statistical evidence, information design and interface design. He wrote, designed and self-published four award-winning books on analytical design. He’s best known as a master of informational graphics, and he teaches courses on presenting data and information. He has been described by The New York Times as “the Leonardo da Vinci of data” and by Business Week as “the Galileo of graphics.” His artwork has been shown at the Architecture and Design Museum in Los Angeles; Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Conn.; and Artists Space and ET Modern in New York City.

Edward Tufte makes an adjustment to one of his large-scale pieces based on Feynman diagrams.

Edward Tufte makes an adjustment to one of his large-scale pieces based on Feynman diagrams.

Tufte’s artwork is based on Feynman diagrams, succinct visual ways of representing interactions among subatomic particles. Feynman unveiled his creation in 1948, revolutionizing the way scientists understand, analyze and predict subatomic processes. His diagrams still define how physicists visualize the phenomena they study.

“Feynman diagrams live inside every physicist’s head and on every blackboard,” said Chris Quigg, theoretical physicist at Fermilab. “With their interplay of form, light and shadow, Tufte’s sculptures evoke the quantum significance of the diagrams.”

Tufte’s artwork brings those diagrams to three-dimensional life. Made of stainless steel, these sculptures are not only striking, but also true representations of actual particle interactions. Tufte’s installation will fill the second-floor art gallery at Fermilab’s Wilson Hall and will open on the evening of April 12, with a special lecture at 7 p.m. and a concert at 8 p.m. by Huun-Huur-Tu, a group of throat singers from the small country of Tuva, of postage stamp fame, in the geographical center of Asia.

Tuva has a special Feynman connection – it was a dream of Feynman’s to travel to this difficult-to-reach destination, one he never realized. That quest is detailed in the book Tuva or Bust!, written by Feynman’s friend Ralph Leighton. As a special part of Fermilab’s Feynman celebration, Leighton will deliver a 30-minute talk before the April 12 concert, titled Richard Feynman’s Fantasy: The Marvelous Stamps of Tannu Tuva.

Leighton will also bring with him the famous Feynman van. Purchased by Feynman in 1975, the Dodge Tradesman Maxivan is adorned with images of Feynman diagrams. Feynman used the van not only to commute to and from work when he was a professor at the California Institute of Technology, but also to explore remote areas of the American West with his family during summer vacations. After Feynman’s death in 1988, Leighton inherited the van and used it in 1993 to transport the Tuvan throat singers during their first tour of California.

The Feynman van, along with Tufte’s “Interplanetary Explorer,” will be on display outside Wilson Hall for the duration of Tufte’s exhibit and can be viewed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.

Tickets for Huun-Huur-Tu’s performance are $28 and can be purchased by calling 630-840-2787 or visiting the box office online athttp://www.fnal.gov/culture/NewArts/arts_tickets.shtml. The concert begins at 8 p.m. in Ramsey Auditorium, with the preconcert lecture by Ralph Leighton beginning at 7 p.m.

Fermilab is America’s national laboratory for particle physics research. A U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science laboratory, Fermilab is located near Chicago, Illinois, and operated under contract by the Fermi Research Alliance, LLC. Visit Fermilab’s website atwww.fnal.gov and follow us on Twitter at @FermilabToday.

The DOE Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

Summary of events

Saturday, April 12
Edward Tufte exhibit The Cognitive Art of Feynman Diagrams opens to the public – 6 p.m.
Fermilab Art Gallery, Wilson Hall, second floor

Ralph Leighton lecture Richard Feynman’s Fantasy: The Marvelous Stamps of Tannu Tuva – 7 p.m.
Ramsey Auditorium, behind Wilson Hall

Concert by Huun-Huur-Tu, Throat Singers of Tuva – 8 p.m.
Ramsey Auditorium, behind Wilson Hall
Tickets and info: http://www.fnal.gov/culture.

Wednesday, April 16
Artist reception for Edward Tufte – 5-7 p.m.
Fermilab Art Gallery, Wilson Hall, second floor
Registration: http://www.fnal.gov/pub/tufte/register.html

Every other Saturday
April 26, May 10, May 24, June 7 and June 21
Guided tour of Tufte exhibit – 10 a.m.
Please call 630-840-6825 to register. Other tours available by appointment.

Every Wednesday
Guided tour of Fermilab, including tour of Tufte exhibit – 10:30 a.m.
Meet in the atrium of Wilson Hall

Thursday, June 26
Last day of Tufte exhibit