Cosmic Log

Mamma mia! 'Bohemian Gravity' turns string theory into a viral video

Sep. 18, 2013 at 7:22 PM ET

McGill University graduate Tim Blais is switching from theoretical physics to music — and there's no better way to mark the career transition than making a "Bohemian Rhapsody" video parody about string theory that's rockin' the Internet.

The 23-year-old Blais (pronounced like "blay") is no stranger to the viral-video biz: Last year's a cappella production was a geeky reimagining of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" that was titled "Rolling in the Higgs." As in Higgs boson.

But "Bohemian Gravity" raises the hilarity — and the high-energy physics — to a new level. Blais' performance is nearly as tuneful as Queen's original, and right from the get-go, he addresses the conundrum posed by the view that reality is composed of tiny vibrating strings. ("Is string theory real? Is it just fantasy?") There's even an Einstein sock puppet that joins the chorus.

"To me it was an obvious thing to use an Einstein sock puppet," Blais told NBC News. He planned ahead, and got a friend to make it by hand. He also chose his costumes with care: "Every shirt is an instrument — all the red shirts are guitar … the yellow shirt is a low bass," he said. 

In just a couple of days, the YouTube video has racked up more than 270,000 views. 

Blais has just finished up his master's degree program at McGill, and he says he's putting academia aside for a while. "I've been in school all my life so I'm switching gears and being a musician this year!" he tweeted. And that career choice is just fine by McGill theoretical physicist Alex Maloney, Blais' faculty adviser.

"He's obviously a very talented musician," Maloney told NBC News, "and he's an excellent physicist."

For more evidence of that, check out Blais' Facebook page for A Capella Science as well as this Global News article about the latest video's genesis. And check out these annotated lyrics for "Bohemian Gravity": 

Is string theory right?
Is it just fantasy?
Caught in the landscape,
Out of touch with reality
Compactified
On S5 or T*S3

Space is a pure void
Why should it be stringy? 
Because it's quantum not classical
Non-renormalizable
Any way you quantize
You'll encounter infinity
You see

Quanta
Must interact
Via paths we understand
Using Feynman diagrams
Often, they will just rebound
But now and then they go another way
A quantum
Loooooop
Infinities will make you cry
Unless you can renormalize your model
Of baryons, fermions
And all other states of matter

Curved space:
The graviton
Can be thought of as a field
But these infinities are real
In a many-body
Loop diagram
Our results diverge no matter what we do...
A Quantum Soup (any way you quantize)
Kiss your fields goodbye
Guess Einstein's theory wasn't complete at all!

I see extended 1-D objects with no mass
(What's their use? What's their use? Can they give us quark plasma?)
What to minimize?
What functional describes this
String?
Nambu-Goto! (Nambu-Goto)
Nambu-Goto! (Nambu-Goto)
How to quantize I don't know
Polyakov!
I'm just a worldsheet, please minimize me
He's just a worldsheet from a string theory
Reparameterized by a Weyl symmetry!

Fermi, Bose, open, closed, orientable?
Vibrations
Modes! They become particles (particles!)
Vibrations
They become particles (particles!)
Vibrations
They become particles (particles!)
Become particles (particles!)
Become particles (many many many many particle...)
Modes modes modes modes modes modes modes!
Oh mamma mia mamma mia,
Such a sea of particles!
A tachyon, with a dilaton and gravity-vity-VITY

(Rock out!)

Now we need ten dimensions and I'll tell you why
(Anomaly cancellation!)
So to get down to 4D we compactify!
Oh, Kahler!
(Kahler manifold)
Manifolds must be Kahler!
(Complex Riemannian symplectic form)
If we wanna preserve
Any of our super-symmetry

(Superstrings of type I, IIa and IIb)
(Heterotic O and Heterotic E)

(All are one through S and T duality)
(Thank you Ed Witten for that superstring revolution and your new M-theory!)

(Maldecena!)
(Super-Yang-Mills!)
(Type IIB String!)
Dual! Dual!
(In the AdS/CFT)
(Holography!)

Molecules and atoms
Light and energy
Time and space and matter
All from one united
Theory

Any way you quantize...

Lyrics and arrangement by Tim Blais and A Capella Science

Original music by Queen

Still more about string theory:

NBC News' Nidhi Subbaraman contributed to this report. Tip o' the Log to Universe Today's Nancy Atkinson and io9's Annalee Newitz.

Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the NBC News Science Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding +Alan Boyle to your Google+ circles. To keep up with NBCNews.com's stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.

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