Chasing the Waves

Chasing the Waves is an exciting new project funded by the STFC that has brought together scientists, Glasgow Science Festival, actors and musicians for a truly collaborative venture.

This live, musical show tells the story of what has been hailed as "one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the century": the detection of gravitational waves.

Discover how Glasgow scientists helped detect these ripples in space-time, which were first predicted by Albert Einstein over 100 years ago. Blending comedy, music, demos and visuals, this is physics as you’ve never seen it before!  Explore a new way of looking at the universe, starting right here in Glasgow.

Performances

After a succesful first run in December 2016, we are delighted to announce the return of 'Chasing the Waves' in 2017 at Glasgow Science Festival, with support from the University of Glasgow's Chancellor's Fund.

Meet the Audience

What did people think of 'Chasing the Waves'? Watch the video below.

Meet the Scientists

Interviews with some of the brilliant scientists who helped make the show happen.

Five minutes with... Prof Martin Hendry

Five minutes with... Prof Jim Hough

Five minutes with... Brynley Pearlstone

Follow The Story

Click through the story-board below to learn more about 'Chasing the Waves'.

Beginnings

The idea for ‘Chasing the Waves’ came from Glasgow Science Festival’s Public Engagement Co-ordinator Dr Zara Gladman, who assembled a team with expertise in both science and the arts. The team consisted of Glasgow Science Festival, scientists Prof Martin Hendry and Dr Peter Murray, actor and writer Emily Benita and musician Stuart Cromarty. The team was later joined by actor Ross Somerville.

The Hard Work Begins

With funding secured from the STFC, the team set to work!  Interviews with scientists from the Institute for Gravitational Research were conducted, providing an insight into the science and human story behind the discovery. Prof Jim Hough, Prof Sheila Rowan, Prof Martin Hendry and PhD students Brynley Pearlstone and Jennifer Wright all shared their thoughts. We also managed to speak to Prof Gabriela González, LIGO Spokesperson, during her visit to Glasgow for the 2016 LIGO Scientific Collaboration Conference.

Writers' Room

Drawing inspiration from the interviews and other research materials, Dr Zara Gladman and Emily Benita began writing the script. Zara’s lyrics were transformed into music by musician Stuart Cromarty.  Zara liaised with several institutions connected with the history of gravitational wave research, acquiring some wonderful historical photographs from the University of Glasgow Archives, the California Institute of Technology, the Institute for Advanced Study and the University of Maryland Archives. 

Professor Jim Hough [left] works on early gravitational wave detectors in the 1970s in Glasgow. Photograph courtesy of the University of Glasgow Archives.
Professor Jim Hough [left] works on early gravitational wave detectors in the 1970s in Glasgow. Photograph courtesy of the University of Glasgow Archives.

Finding the Audience

Every show needs an audience! Zara worked with Science Connects to recruit upper secondary pupils as audience members for the shows. Tickets were also available for one public adult performance, an audience often overlooked in public engagement. The venues were booked and confirmed: the University of Glasgow’s Boyd Orr Building and the newly refurbished Kelvin Hall.

Rehearsal

With the first draft of the script ready, Emily Benita and Ross Somerville tried on lab coats for the first time and brought the two main characters – Fraser and Lisa – to life. ‘Lisa’ is named after the ‘LISA Pathfinder Mission’, which aims to detect gravitational waves from space.

Ross [left] and Emily [right] enjoy a coffee break during rehearsals in the Kelvin Hall

Sneak Preview

On Friday 4 November 2016, scientists from the University of Glasgow’s School of Physics and Astronomy were invited to view a 15-minute ‘taster’ of the show. This allowed the audience to provide useful feedback ahead of the fully formed show. 

Script Development to Final Draft

A read-through of the entire script was performed for Prof Martin Hendry, Dr Peter Murray and Dr Deborah McNeill, Director of Glasgow Science Festival. This allowed further fact-checking by the scientists and allowed Dr McNeill to feed back on the interactivity of the show. 

Using the valuable feedback from the taster show and script development meeting, Zara and Emily completed the final draft of the script over several cups of tea and confectionary. Zara finished editing the final videos for inclusion in the show. Stuart provided the final mix of the ‘Chasing the Waves’ title track.

Stuart Cromarty composed the music for the 'Chasing the Waves' title track 

Pre-Show Preparations

With the final script put to bed, Zara began preparation on the ‘Pre-Show’ learning resource for schools. This introduces pupils to key concepts, enabling deeper learning with the show. The resource was distributed to all schools. Text was written for the official show Programme, which was beautifully designed by Tom Deas and sent to the printers.

Music Video

One Friday afternoon in the corridors of the Kelvin Building and after some careful plotting, the team filmed footage for a video to accompany the ‘Chasing the Waves’ title track. With some help from Brynley, we were able to recruit a number of physicists and astronomers as fabulous backing dancers!  You can view the video below.

The Final Countdown

With just a few weeks until the shows, Emily and Ross worked hard to perfect their performance while Zara fiddled about with technical requirements and props. Over 500 school pupils and teachers had booked in for the shows, and the adult show had sold out within 24 hours. 

Emily builds our most important prop: Lego LIGO!

Show Time!

From Wednesday 7 to Friday 9 December, hundreds of pupils from Glasgow and beyond enjoyed free performances of ‘Chasing the Waves’ at the University of Glasgow and the Kelvin Hall. Each performance was followed by a Q&A with researchers from the Institute for Gravitational Research, including Prof Jim Hough, Prof Martin Hendry, Prof Sheila Rowan, Dr Peter Murray, Daniel Williams, Brynley Pearlstone, Grégoire Lacaille and Jennifer Wright. Our evening performance for adults was also a fantastic success.

From left: Ross Somerville, Emily Benita, Jennifer Wright, Prof Martin Hendry, Prof Jim Hough, Prof Sheila Rowan

The Debrief

On Tuesday 13 December, the organising group met to reflect upon the project and evaluate its success for future learning. One of the outcomes of the meeting was an evaluation video with tips for others wishing to embark on art-science projects like Chasing the Waves, available to view below. A post-show learning resource was developed and distributed to schools, facilitating learning beyond the scope of the project.