It’s not very often that Indiana Jones and lasers are coupled in the same sentence, but these two terms—and “lots of hand gestures,” are how violist and physicist, Ben Luey, describes his work of nine years in optical and atomic physics.
As effortless as it may be for Ben to explain laser cooling and trapping to others, the reality of it is quite intricate. He compares pebbles to massive boulders (picture Indiana Jones) as a way of showing how light from lasers is used to cool atoms. As a child, Ben’s curiosity gave him a deep interest in how things worked, “I started taking things apart at a young age,” he said.
Though the balance between being a physicist and a musician may seem vast, Ben sees them as closely related. He believes that some musicians are often more scientifically and mathematically oriented than people realize, “rhythm makes sense to us, because we like fractions,” Ben said.
Music is a realm Ben is quite comfortable exploring. Born to amateur pianist parents, he believes that his first exposure to music may have very well been in the womb. He began piano lessons at an early age, but found the piano to be a bit overwhelming, as he considers himself a “one note at a time kind of guy.” In sixth grade, he decided to take orchestra as an elective, choosing to play viola. “It got me out of hanging out with the big kids that scared me,” Ben said.
Playing in front of people in an orchestra was a scary thought to Ben when he was younger. However, he was able to overcome his fear by playing in his school orchestra, as well as the Oakland Youth Orchestra in California. Ben eventually relocated to Colorado to pursue a graduate degree from Colorado University in Boulder, which he completed in 2005.
Ben is going on his ninth season with the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra, and he describes the overall experience of preparing for a concert as a process. He’ll listen to the recordings of the season’s pieces, and after six weeks of rehearsal, he reaches a point where he can focus solely on the music, and “make it memorable and interesting.”
When he’s not practicing his viola, Ben spends his extra his time working for Iguanaworks, a small business he owns, which “manufactures and sells USB devices that send and receive infrared signals.” This gadget ultimately allows his customers to control their computers with a TV remote or use their computers to control other devices such as a DVR, TV, or a cable box. Given his experience as a physicist, the question begged to be asked, which does Ben prefer: Star Wars or Star Trek? While Ben considers himself a Star Trek fan since he grew up with Star Trek: The Next Generation, he says there’s “much better music in Star Wars.”
Bands on repeat: Dvorak’s 7th Symphony and Beethoven’s Egmont Overture
First Concert: 3rd grade field trip to see a performance of Verdi’s Falstaff.
By Julia Compton, DPO Embedded Reporter