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Friday, November 14, 2008

Artist Creates Universe From Uranium & Gum

We just got a note from conceptual artist Jonathon Keats (creator of the "Atheon"), who told us about a new project he has in the works: Keats is using quantum mechanics to replicate the ultimate cosmological act of creation, building a machine that mass-produces new universes.
Using little more than a piece of chewing gum, a plastic drinking straw, and a bit of uranium, Keats says he's constructed the first machine for fabricating all-inclusive universes. The machine is based on an aspect of quantum mechanics proposed by Princeton University physicist Hugh Everett III, who, in the 1950s, developed a quantum theory of multiple universes. This theory addressed the question of how elementary particles can exist in a quantum superposition—for example, being in two different locations—until someone observes it, at which point the observer finds it to be in only one place at a time. Everett's explanation was that the particle remains in both places when it's observed, but the observer's entire universe splits as the measurement is made, so that from that moment on, there are two separate observers living in separate universes, both identical except for the observed location of that single subatomic particle.
Keats decided to put the theory to practical use by building what he calls a "quantum universe generator." He'd need a steady supply of subatomic particles and a way to observe them, and "figured the easiest approach would be to measure radioactive decay," he says. "So I assembled a prototype out of uranium-doped glass and a sliver of scintillating crystal." A straw and chewing gum from his kitchen cupboard held the pieces together.
But as he worked to make the prototype more efficient, "creating all those universes seemed a little selfish," he says. "And the last thing I wanted was a god complex."
To that end, Keats designed a make-your-own universe kit costing 20 dollars, so that anyone can create a cosmos at home. "What could be a more fulfilling hobby, especially in this bleak economy?" he asks.
The kits will be available when the new project, "Universes Unlimited," launches on November 20 at the Modernism Gallery in San Francisco, where Keats says he'll reveal plans to fabricate universes on an industrial scale. His first automated universe factory has been designed for the proposed Yucca Mountain Repository for nuclear waste in the Nevada desert (yet the Department of Energy has yet to officially review his plans). "The radioactivity of the dump makes it ideal for making new worlds," Keats says. "Now that we've pretty well destroyed this world, generating a googolplex of alternate universes with a googolplex of possible outcomes may be our only chance at redemption." —Heather Wax