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Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science

Renormalization Tribute Shocks Conferees

By Martin Bridge

A well-known advocate of using the arts to promote science has come under attack. Physics impresario Brian Schwartz, with several previous successful productions to his credit, is facing questions regarding his latest creation, "Homage to Renormalization", after its first performance took an unexpected turn.

The performance was staged before more than a thousand physicists at the recent conference on "Fifty Years of Field Theory". With a stellar list of speakers including many Nobel Prize winners, the meeting had been dubbed the Super Bowl of physics conferences, and the organizers wanted something special for the entertainment at the conference banquet. They turned to Schwartz to provide it.

Working with contacts at MTV, Schwartz designed a musical number that portrayed the dramatic battle with infinite integrals. "To be honest, I was more worried about the violence as the battle reached its climactic moments," Schwartz said. "I was completely unprepared for what actually happened. The performers did it on their own—there was never a hint of it in rehearsal."

The trouble arose because of a scene in which the bare mass, an unrenormalized quantity, is "dressed" by higher-order corrections. The dancer representing the bare mass apparently took the concept too literally. " At first I thought it was a flesh-colored body stocking," one shocked audience member recalled. "But then I realized it was the real thing."

"It was only for a brief moment," Schwartz remarked ruefully, "because the—ahem—singularity was quickly removed by the process of renormalization. But apparently that moment was enough."

Indeed it was. Gasps were heard in the audience. At least one Nobel Prize winner fainted, falling head first into his dessert. "Many of the Nobel Prize winners are quite elderly," an outraged conference organizer said. "You can't subject them to something like this. They were raised in a more genteel era. They can't take it."

Schwartz promised to be more careful in the future. His next effort is all about the quark model, but, he says, "the bottom quark will appear fully clothed."

Ed. Note: The above account is not entirely true. Brian Schwartz, Vice President for Research at the Graduate Center, CUNY, is indeed a well-known promoter of science and the arts.[see http://web.gc.cuny.edu/sciart/ ] His current effort involves the production of a new musical play based on Alan Lightman's novel "Einstein's Dreams" and is suitable for all audiences, including Nobel Prize winners.

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