The physics of Freddie Mercury

by Gemma Horowitz, BA'10

If you have an Internet connection, there’s an excellent chance that you’re familiar with the unique musical stylings of Tim Blais, BSc’11. The 23-year-old McGill graduate student has been steadily winning new fans - some of them famous - with his unorthodox approach to spreading the word about the wonders of physics

His A Capella Science project posts distinctive cover versions of popular rock and pop songs, all rewritten to explore physics concepts. The songs feature multiple layers of Blais’s voice, skillfully fused together to create smooth harmonies. "Rolling in the Higgs," an Adele-inspired track released last year, attracted more than 545,000 YouTube views. His latest offering, “Bohemian Gravity,” is a pitch-perfect take on the classic Queen anthem “Bohemian Rhapsody.” As of this writing, the video for the song has garnered more than 1.9 million views on YouTube.

Star Trek icon George Takei posted it on Facebook. Russell Crowe tweeted about it. And, most importantly to Blais, Queen guitarist Brian May, no slouch at physics himself (he has a PhD in astrophysics), featured it on his own site. Blais’s Facebook response to that last milestone: “I think I just won at life."

“I was working at my lab on various research [projects], and I was also procrastinating and watching YouTube videos,” says Blais of the genesis of his project. “I thought, ‘You know, there’s something you have that these people don’t have. And that’s a large amount of knowledge about physics.’”

The result of his efforts is undeniably catchy, though you might find yourself frequently reaching for a dictionary of science terms (sample lyrics: “Space is a pure void/Why should it be stringy?/Because it’s quantum, not classical, non-renormalizable”). A sock-puppet Einstein, singing a rousing solo, might be the break-out star of the piece.

The video has received rapturous praise from YouTube’s notoriously vicious commenters. There has been no shortage of media attention either – CTV News, NBC News, Scientific American, Le Point, The Daily Mail and others have all filed stories.

Blais says that the production process for “Bohemian Gravity” was arduous – the video editing alone took the equivalent of about three work-weeks – and he did it all while working on his master’s thesis.

His motivation, he says, stemmed partly from wanting to combine his passions for music and science, but also from a sense of artistic responsibility. “I thought, ‘I can’t think of anyone besides me who could make this happen. If I want this to be at thing in the world, I have to make it.’”

Watch the full music video below: