It was time to celebrate, and Andrew J. Hanson did.
The Calabi-Yau Sculpture was unveiled in all its scientific complexity and beauty in front on the east lawn of Luddy Hall, and Hanson, professor emeritus of computer science, couldn’t stop smiling. Neither could his wife, Patricia Foster, IU professor emerita of biology. They radiated excitement and gratitude at the April 19 dedication of a project decades in the completing.
Hanson calls the sculpture a “visual force of nature.” It’s a “scientific visualization” based on complex equations tied to string theory, which states there are 10 dimensions, the four we know (length, width, height and time) and six that are hidden.
String theory says that all matter and energy in the universe are made of incredibly small vibrating one-dimensional strings. It suggests the six hidden dimensions are folded into a complex shape called the Calabi-Yau manifold. It’s named after Eugenio Calabi, a world-renowned Italian-born mathematician, and Shing-Tung Yau, a famous Chinese-American mathematician.
The sculpture, Hanson said, “represents Calabi-Yau space.”
He said the sculpture reduces a six-dimensional space to a two-dimensional cross section that can be realized in 4D computer graphics and projected like a 3D photo of a 4D world into a 3D print, cast into a mathematically correct 3D sculpture.
Understanding starts with equations etched onto the sculpture’s pillar and headstones. There’s Z15 + Z25 = 1, which is the Fermat Quintic Surface, and then Z05 + Z15 +Z25 + Z35 + Z45 = 0, which is the Calabi-Yau Quintic six-dimensional hyperspace. The shorter Fermat surface equation is an abbreviated approximation to the Calabi-Yau space that makes it possible to draw and render in the form of a sculpture.
Hanson has the expertise to make this happen. He’s an internationally renowned theoretical physicist whose work includes co-discovering the Eguchi-Hanson metric. His other research includes computer graphics, visualization of abstract concepts in math and physics, and virtual astronomy. His many versions of string-theory-adapted graphics have been used on TV shows, books, magazine covers and numerous string-theory articles.
“I make pictures of things no one has seen before,” he said.
The sculpture represents in many ways Hanson’s life’s work.
“This is so exciting,” he said, “it’s hard to express.”
Embedded in the sculpture are 25 identical hexagonal shapes projected from the 4th dimension to distorted images in the 3D sculpture. At ten separate points throughout the sculpture, collections of five of these hexagons gather around each point to form a five-slice pie shape. This provides a mathematical signal that the equation being depicted is actually contains a 5th power, and that you can be convinced that what you are seeing is actually a quintic equation.
Hanson is way beyond seeing.
“Seeing a picture of it isn’t the same as touching it,” he said. “That’s the most exciting thing for me.”
Turning a complex equation into a sculpture required a unique skillset. Hanson found it in Maryland sculptor William Duffy, whose 45-year career includes expertise in 3D imaging and modeling using advanced computational software.
Duffy said he transforms equations and images found only in a virtual world and gives them three-dimensional form in our world.
Stainless steel was chosen because of its durability and the fact it reflects light rather than absorb it as bronze does. Fourteen steel pieces were cast and welded together in a Lancaster, Pa., foundry. It took eight months to refine and polish.
“Stainless steel is a tough metal, an unforgiving metal,” Duffy said, “but it’s beautiful.
“Being a sculptor, I always liked having my hands on clay. But this one, I didn’t touch it until it was finished.”
Years of delays and frustration didn’t faze Hanson, who had faced bigger challenges, including surviving the 1956 sinking of the Italian cruise ship Andrea Doria. The 12-year-old Hanson, his pregnant mother, and a younger brother and sister were returning from Italy on the Andrea Doria. They were in Italy for his father’s sabbatical year. The ship was hit by a Swedish cruise ship on a late-July night and began to sink. The Hanson family leapt into the north Atlantic to reach a lifeboat around 2 in the morning. About eight hours later, the Andrea Doria sank off the coast of Massachusetts; 46 of the 1,706 passengers and crew died.
“I saw it as an adventure and a challenge,” Hanson said, “rather than a terrifying tragedy, which seemed to be the mindset of many fellow passengers.”
Hanson was intellectually inspired by a family that included a physicist father, Alfred, a valuable participant in the Manhattan project for his expertise in neutron physics; a graphic artist-cartographer mother, Elisabeth; three physicist uncles; and a grandfather who was the University of Missouri’s dean of agriculture. One of those uncles, Dan Miller, Elisabeth’s youngest brother, was a professor of physics at IU who was heavily involved in nuclear physics and the creation of the now-defunct IU cyclotron facility.
That sparked a lifetime of learning, teaching, discovering and, ultimately, creating. The result was a sculpture quest fueled by this certainty:
“No one would know how to do it right except me,” Hanson said with a smile, “and it would be a lot more fun not to be dead when the sculpture came into being.”
Hanson is very much alive.
“And now it is enormously fun to know that it has been carried out the way I had always envisioned it. Let the fun begin.”