Spooky action at a distance

4 November 2014

Halloween may be over but Belfast is celebrating the ‘spooky’ work of local physicist, John Bell, who famously contradicted Einstein’s prediction that one particle could not affect the behaviour of another particle separated from it in space.


The concept of quantum entanglement was derided by Einstein in the 1930s as “spooky action at a distance”, but on 4 November 1964 John Bell submitted for publication his seminal paper demonstrating how it was possible. His work paved the way for quantum computing and cryptography – now widely seen as one of the most exciting developments in 21st century science.

To mark the day, IOP Ireland are showing intriguing images of Bell and Einstein on a giant screen at Belfast City Hall while an art exhibition on the work of Bell opens at Queen’s University Belfast.

John Bell was born on July 28 1928, the second of four children, into a working class family from Tate’s Avenue, Belfast. His father had left school aged 12 and John was the only member of his family that remained in school beyond the age of 14. The family could not afford to send him to grammar school so he attended the Belfast Tech, now the Belfast Metropolitan College, and trained as a technician.

He worked as a technician in the physics department at QUB where his exceptional abilities were noted and he was encouraged to sit in on lectures. Using money saved from his job he began his degree at QUB, graduating with first class honours in 1948. He moved from QUB to the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, Harwell, Oxford and worked in the UK until 1960 when he moved to CERN.

He received many honours for his work and at the time of his sudden death, from a stroke on 1 October 1990, he was a Nobel Prize nominee.

The QUB art exhibition explores Bell’s life and the artistic response to his legacy by artists from across the world, including:
Richard Bell (Australia)
Geraldine Cox (UK)
Oliver Jeffers (USA)
Rory Jeffers (Northern Ireland)
Jonathon Keats (USA)
Kevin Kopacka (Germany)
Lucy McKenna (Ireland)
Philip Mussen (Northern Ireland)

The exhibition runs from 5-30 November and also includes a number of special lectures on Bell’s life, work and legacy.

Further information on JS Bell from the Royal Irish Academy.