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Musical quantum cats shortlisted for film festival prize

Published: 22 February 2017
A still frame from Approaching Reality

A Southampton physicist’s video using cartoon cats to explain quantum mechanics is in the running to win an international short film festival.

Approaching Reality, a three-minute short created by the University of Southampton’s Dr Simone De Liberato, is one of ten finalists for the Quantum Shorts 2016 festival.

The video uses colourful cats, a one-eyed observer reminiscent of Cyclops, and musical crescendo to explain the scientific concept of linear superposition to the public.

Dr De Liberato, leader of the department of Physics and Astronomy’s Quantum Theory and Technology Group, has been shortlisted for Quantum Shorts from over 200 submissions from 51 countries. His video is now in contention for three top prizes, including a publicly-chosen People’s Choice Award that is voted for through the film festival’s website.

Dr De Liberato says: “The quantum world is a strange place in which single systems can co-exist in multiple states at the same time, like the famous Schrödinger cat. I struggled to find a vivid visual code to convey this concept, due to our tendency to focus visual attention on one object at a time. Fortunately, this isn’t the case when it comes to listening. Our hearing allows us to consider different sounds both individually, or in combination. Like focusing on a single violin within the orchestra, or listening to the entire ensemble. The next step was to approach a composer to create a piece of music based on the rules of quantum mechanics, which in turn, led to the production of this video. I’m really pleased it’s become such an effective public engagement tool.”

“It’s fantastic that the shortlisting panel for Quantum Shorts has highlighted Approaching Reality from such an extensive list of entries and I look forward to hearing the judges’ final outcome soon. I hope this project and the positive coverage it’s receiving can inspire more people to explore the rich world of theoretical physics.”

The Approaching Reality project has benefited from a Leverhulme Trust Artist in Residence grant that incorporated musician Martin Fogel and a University of Southampton outreach grant that helped hire two animators.

The video will be shown alongside other shortlisted titles at the Art Science Museum in Singapore, the Glasgow Science Centre in Scotland, the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, Australia, and Science World in Vancouver, Canada, as part of special Quantum Shorts screenings in the coming weeks.

More information on the Approaching Reality project is available at, while the video’s Quantum Shorts entry – including the online voting poll – can be found at

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