The Exchange: Cut Worms and Marius Stan on bending space-time and connecting with audiences.

The Arts and Sciences used to share much of the same intellectual space. Only recently have they diverged to the degree that they seem diametrically opposed. The Exchange is our attempt to rekindle some of the dialogue that occurred between the two fields.

In this installment, we’ve brought together Cut Worms and Dr. Marius Stan.


Cut Worms is the music project of Ohio-born, Brooklyn-based singer, songwriter, visual artist, and musician Max Clarke.

A constant creator – be it his Cut Worms alter-ego or his day-job illustration work (designing brand logos and beer labels with madhouse technicolor pictures) – writing and making records has always been Max’s driving force. So after an extensive eighteen-months of touring in support of 2017’s Alien Sunset and 2018’s Hollow Ground, he set about sifting through the fragment pieces and sketches of tunes he’d accumulated, along with a jet-stream of new compositions, mining his life-long devotion to the lost American songbook for inspiration.

Nobody Lives Here Anymore, the latest and greatest from Max Clarke as Cut Worms, is the haunted reverie of an American landscape in-and-out of Clarke’s mind. Recorded between May and November 2019 in Memphis, Tennessee, the album is a snow globe of the mid-twentieth-century’s popular music filled with chiming guitars, honkey tonk pianos, and Telstar organs.

Dr. Marius Stan is the Intelligent Materials Design Lead in the Argonne National Laboratory’s Applied Materials division. Stan is a computational physicist and chemist interested in complexity, non-equilibrium thermodynamics, heterogeneity, and materials design for energy and electronics applications. He uses artificial intelligence, machine learning, and multi-scale computer simulations to understand and predict properties and evolution of complex physical systems.

The goal of Stan’s research is to discover or design materials, structures, and device architectures for energy applications, such as nuclear energy and energy storage, and for the new generation computers. To that end, he develops theory-based (as opposite to empirical) mathematical models of thermodynamic and chemical properties of imperfect materials. The imperfection comes from defects or deviations from stoichiometry (e.g., in battery electrodes), from irradiation (e.g. in nuclear fuels), or doping (e.g. computer memory devices). Then Stan uses the models in computer simulations of coupled heat and chemical transport, micro(nano)-structure evolution, phase-stability, and phase transformations.

To analyze large and complex experimental and computational data sets, Stan uses Bayesian analysis and machine learning methods based on regression and evolutionary (genetic) algorithms that can produce robust data screening and sampling. In parallel, Stan designs experiments to validate the models and simulations.


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Cut Worms, aka Max Clarke (CREDIT: Caroline Gohlke)

Cut Worms: Is it theoretically possible to bend space-time as a means of propulsion /faster-than-lightspeed-travel? Is it physically possible?

Dr. Marius Stan: In his famous Theory of Relativity, Albert Einstein stipulated that the speed of light in vacuum, labeled “c”, is the maximum speed an entity can achieve in the universe. The value of c is approximately 186,000 miles per second. Einstein also proposed the E=mc2 relationship between energy, mass and the speed of light in vacuum. Let me emphasize “in vacuum.” When light travels through a material, it slows down to a value v due to interactions with the atoms that compose the material. That allows other entities to travel faster than light in that medium. A famous example is the Cherenkov effect, where radiation exceeds the speed of light in water, giving out a beautiful, blue glow.

The idea of the space-time is based on the observation that if we accept that c is a universal constant, the multiplication of c with time results in a coordinate with units consistent with length. With that in mind, our usual three-dimensional space can be extended to a four-dimensional “space-time” by adding the “c times time” coordinate. In such a representation, deformations of the space-time can be associated with forces. For example, gravity would create a “valley” in the space-time that is quite deep for heavy objects such as planets and stars. Conversely, one can imagine how by deforming (bending) the space-time, one could generate a “propulsion force” to accelerate travel.

Now, to your question: In theory, it is possible to bend the space-time such that some entity (e.g. radiation) exceeds the speed of light v in a medium different than vacuum. However, it would be impossible to exceed the speed of light in vacuum, c, which is the maximum velocity any entity can attain. Unfortunately, the optimistic scenario of exceeding the speed of light in some medium does not include humans traveling across the universe. The energy required to intentionally bend the space-time is simply too large for human transportation purposes.

It is not that we, humans, cannot withstand the space-time bending, it is more that we cannot intentionally bend the space-time for propulsion purposes. We lack the necessary energy (mass times velocity squared) to meaningfully deform the space-time. Planets and stars can do that and we can take advantage of their work to accelerate our spaceships.

So, it is possible that manned or unmanned vehicles take advantage of existing space-time deformations – such as large celestial objects – to accelerate their movement along pre-designed trajectories. The good news is that although our bodies cannot surpass the speed of light, our dreams can.


Dr. Marius Stan

Dr. Marius Stan: Music is a universal language that transcends cultures. Musicians communicate through their songs, videos, or live performances. How does the audience communicate back? What impresses you the most about the interaction?

Cut Worms: Good question, Dr.! I think the audience has ways of communicating differently depending on the circumstances. I will try to describe the most significant one, hopefully without sounding terribly pretentious.

The most interesting and direct of these ways would probably be the experience of live music in normal, non-pandemic times. I think there’s an unspoken exchange of energy between a band and a live audience that (when it’s going well) kind of “propels” and enhances those moments in time.

There’s something wonderful about having a bunch of different people with all their own egos and desires and likes and dislikes, all in the same room, agreeing on something and letting themselves feel good together. This comes across not so much in individual things they say (or drunkenly yell) but more so as a collective energy that tells the persons on stage that what they’re communicating is resonating in a meaningful way, and that everyone is on the same side. Does that answer your question? Hopefully!

IMAGE CREDIT: NASA, ESA and E. Rivera-Thorsen (Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics Oslo, Norway)

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