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Girl in period costume standing by a grand piano
Gravitational waves – ripples of spacetime – were first predicted by the physicist Albert Einstein and the work is named in tribute to him. Credit: Samantha Stella

A piece of music which brings to life gravitational wave data from a University of Birmingham physicist was presented at the Festival della Scienza in Genoa, Italy, on 29 October 2021.

Called Einstein's Sonata, the work is based on simulations of double white dwarfs (stars at the end of their life) predicted to be distributed throughout the Milky Way.

Gravitational waves – ripples of spacetime – were first predicted by the physicist Albert Einstein and the work is named in tribute to him. While so far these invisible signals have only been detected from the distant universe, astronomers are certain there are many gravitational wave sources in our own galaxy produced by white dwarfs orbiting around each other.

Dr Valeriya Korol, of the University of Birmingham Institute for Gravitational Wave Astronomy, has created a simulated map of these Galactic double white dwarfs for a scientific research conducted as a part of the preparation for the LISA space mission planned by European Space Agency for 2034. This simulation has formed the basis of Einstein’s Sonata and was transposed into a composition for piano using dedicated softwares and algorithms.

The music was written by composer and music researcher Andrea Valle, of the University of Torino and was performed by pianist Luca Ieracitano. Artist Samantha Stella, who has the artistic direction of the project, has created a visual interpretation of the music, inspired by the opening scene of the film Drowning by Numbers by Peter Greenaway. In the opening scenes of the film, a young girl talks about counting stars, adorned in a dress recalling Spanish baroque painter Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas. A girl (Fedora Florian) wearing a costume curated by Pasquale Napolitano, appears on stage during the performance.

The discovery of the first gravitational waves in 2015 captured the world’s imagination and has held it ever since. In Einstein’s Sonata we endeavour to bring extra dimensions to complex gravitational wave science, to reinterpret and imagine the origins of our universe and to inspire audiences in an entirely new way.

Dr Valeriya Korol, of the University of Birmingham Institute for Gravitational Wave Astronomy.

The project is funded by the Gruber postdoctoral fellowship awarded by the International Astronomical Union, and by the Dutch Research Concil (NWO), awarded to Valeriya in 2019 in order to undertake a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute for Gravitational Wave Astronomy of the University of Birmingham.