Ig Nobel Prizes: nano-opera 2003 -- Atom and Eve

Libretto for the nano-opera

"Atom and Eve"

A tale of inter-scalar romance, in 4 acts

Words by Marc Abrahams

This opera had its premiere Thursday evening, October 2, as part of the 2003 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, at Harvard's Sanders Theatre.

Click here for a Glasgow Sunday Herald preview of the performance.
Click here to see video of the actual premiere performance (this is video of the entire Ig Nobel ceremony -- the four acts of the nano-opera are included in it)

(Note: click on photos to see enlargements.)

NOTE [August 2006]: What you see on this page is the original, 2003, version. A version with a new Act 4 will premiere on October 25, 2006 at The Alpbach Technology Forum in Alpbach, Austria. The performance will be webcast live. Click here to see a downloadable, printable booklet of the libretto in English, German and Chinese.

The Original Cast

Opera Director: Margot Button
Singers: Margot Button, Jason McStoots, and Tara Hunt
Pianist: Greg Neil
Additional Actors/Shouters in Act 4: Nobel Laureates Dudley Herschbach, Wolfgang Ketterle, William Lipscomb, Richard Roberts, and other Distinguished Scientists
Narrator: Karen Hopkin

ACT 1 -- "No Wandering Atom I"

NARRATOR (spoken): Tonight's opera is a love story. Eve is a lovely young scientist who falls in love with Atom. Atom is an oxygen atom. There are some obvious difficulties to be overcome.

Staging this opera presented a difficulty for us. We were unable to find an experienced singer who is small enough to play the role of Atom. And so we will make do with Jason McStoots. Jason, will you please come out here and take a bow? You in the audience will have to imagine that he is actually the size of an oxygen atom.

Our other main character, Eve, will be played by Margot Button. Margot, will you please come out here and take a bow? Margot is exactly the right size to play a beautiful scientist. You in the audience will have to imagine that she is actually the size you see here. And now, we begin the opera.

Atom is a poor, solitary atom, who yearns for companionship and true love. One day, Atom feels something strange and wonderful. Someone is looking at him through a scanning probe microscope. Perhaps, Atom wonders, perhaps that someone could be... the woman of his dreams. Let's join little Atom now as this thought enters his tiny mind.

[MUSIC: "A Wandering Minstrel I," by Arthur Sullivan, from the Mikado]


Jason McStoots as the little oxygen atom, "Atom." Photo: David Holzman.

It's elementary.
I know I'm just an atom,
Down in the lowest stratum
Of humblest society.
From what I learned in school
I know I should be bonding.
My parents are desponding
Because I'm not a molecule.
My future seems so, so, so very miniscule.

What if I dream of bigger things?
They will object.
Oh, sorrow!
They say I'm made of tiny strings.
Are they correct?
Oh, sorrow, sorrow!
I feel some larger force
From some enormous source.
I dream of inter--.
Can we connect?
Tomorrow? Tomorrow?

Oh, a woman's love is just what I have wanted.
But women are on such a bigger scale
That a nanoscopic guy could well be daunted --
Yet somehow I don't think that I will fail!
It's true that I don't have a massive body.
Yes, it's true that what I've got is pretty crude.
Eight protons may seem far from being gaudy,
By thirty orders, more or less, of magnitude.

My unseen love may be looking at me
Through some big microscope.
If she's not a he, I am sure that she
Is excited at what little she can see --
At least that is what I hope!
I feel her gaze in a glancing way,
But how can she really know
That of all of the zillion little dots,
That in that crowd
There is standing proud
One who has the hots for her --
Though he's just a little schmoe!

No wandering atom I,
Now that I have caught snatches
Of who my perfect match is.
This very Eve I will try-y-y somehow to catch... this gigantical lady's eye!

ACT 2 -- "Eve's Song"

NARRATOR: Back in Act One of our opera, the little oxygen atom, Atom, intuited that someone was watching him through an atomic force microscope. Here in Act Two, we discover that that someone is Eve, a lovely scientist. For Eve, looking down through her microscope, it's love at first sight. Let's join Eve as she ogles her little Atom.

[MUSIC: "Poor Wand'ring One," by Arthur Sullivan, from "Pirates of Penzance"]


Tara Hunt, as Eve’s colleague, peers into a microscope to see if she can see what Margot Button, as the Scientist Eve, has been making such a fuss about. Photo: Margaret Hart.

[EVE is peering down into her microscope. Her FELLOW SCIENTISTS watch her. All are wearing lab coats.]

Poor wand'ring one!
Look at this oxygen atom,
See him attract!
See me react!
See my heart run!

Could we combine?
Or would such love be forbidden?
Love that entails
Such diff’rent scales --
Eensy and elephantine?

Does he know I exist?
If so, then will he resist
All the force of my nature
That yearns for us to have kissed?

Will he ask for a date?
When? Oh, when? Oh, why should he wait?
Here's a technical challenge:
Now, how will we copu---?

How will we mate --
I and this oxygen atom?
Well now, gee whiz,
The answer is:
I will oxygenate!

ACT 3 -- "I'm Nano!"

NARRATOR: In Act Three of our opera, the little oxygen atom, Atom, devises a clever way that he and his soon-to-be-beloved Eve can meet up. Let’s join Atom now, and listen to his little cogitations.

[MUSIC: "Titwillow," by Arthur Sullivan, from the Mikado]

Oh, an oxygen atom is really quite small.
O, I'm nano! I'm nano! I'm nano!
Why, compared to a woman, I'm nothing at all.
O, I'm nano! I'm nano! I'm nano!
For conventional wooing, I'm not well designed,
But so what if my toolkit is underdefined?
I've a plan of a rather adventurous kind.
I'm nano! I'm nano! I'm nano!
I'm nano! I'm nano! I'm nano!

She inhales lots of oxygen with every breath.
O, I'm nano! I'm nano! I'm nano!
Now, if she hyperventilates, she'll cause my death.
O, I'm nano! I'm nano! I'm nano!
But if she breathes in softly, I'll go with the flow --
Diffuse in through a lung, and then next thing you know,
Hooked on fresh hemoglobin -- a-riding I'll go!
I'm nano! I'm nano! I'm nano!
I'm nano! I'm nano! I'm nano!

Sitting in a red blood cell, I’ll zip through a vein.
O, I'm nano! I'm nano! I'm nano!
And the bloodstream will carry me straight to her brain.
O, I'm nano! I'm nano! I'm nano!
Once inside her cerebrum, who knows what I'll find --
If I’m lucky, a place to relax and unwind.
See, the main thing I hope is: she'll keep me in mind!
I'm nano! I'm nano! I'm nano!

ACT 4 -- "Bose-Einstein Condensate"

NARRATOR: When we last saw little Atom, he was hoping that Eve would breathe him into her lungs, from which point he would then enter the bloodstream and travel to Eve's brain. Alas, Eve was so-o-o-o-o excited that she hyperventilated. So, that plan turned out to be a no-brainer.

Now, here, in the final act of the opera, science will come to the rescue! The physics community, in a great triumph, has just figured out how to make a BOSE-EINSTEIN CONDENSATE. In a Bose-Einstein condensate, a huge number of atoms are cooled, using laser beams, to a temperature that is staggeringly cold. When that happens -- as predicted by the theories of Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein in the year 1926 -- when that happens, ALL the atoms suddenly behave as if they are a SINGLE, GIGANTIC, ATOM.

Let's watch as the scientists transform our little Atom into a gigantic, handsome, Bose-Einstein condensate.

[MUSIC: "El Capitan," by John Philip Sousa]


Little Atom suddenly becomes a Bose-Einstein condensate. The tall metal object is meant to represent a laser apparatus. Photo: David Holzman.


We did it all for love.
We cooled some atoms with laser beams,
With physics way above
The stuff of missile defenders' dreams.
The atoms conflate
Into one great
Big Bose-Einstein condensate.

We'll do it now for love ---
We'll take this atom who's unfulfilled.
Give him the wherewithof ---
A manly cool, and a massive build.
Put him in a state
To consummate
His Bose-Einstein dinner date.

Turn on the lasers NOW! [this line is shouted in unison by ALL the scientists on stage]
Each tuned to a special frequency,
A color of potent piquancy!
And now watch us create
A serviceable atomic condensate!

[The LASER BEAMS are turned on. ATOM materializes, full-size.]

Oh, gosh! Oh, gee! Oh, WOW! [this line is shouted in unison by ALL the scientists on stage]
This atom has now been re-defined
As something resembling humankind.
We've made a man of him --
Well, technic'lly speaking, more a synonym.

EVE: Yes, yes! My little Atom has grown up, and come to stay.
He'll never go away.
I'll see him ev'ry day!

FELLOW SCIENTIST: No, no! Your little Atom's big day is a little blip.
Cause when we turn the lasers off, he's zip.

EVE: Oh, my!

FELLOW SCIENTIST: The best we can suggest
Is something we can do to YOU:
You, too, we can condense.
But that's a bit intense.

EVE: Why not? Yes, squish me down into a single molecule.
One molecule! That's really COOL!
Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!
Oh, yes! Please condense me now!
Cause if you don't, you'll incense me now!

FELLOW SCIENTIST: You heard her. So, let's condense her now.
What joie de vivre!
Good-bye now, Eve!

[The SCIENTISTS crush EVE. ATOM looks suddenly very, very afraid.]

Now let's turn off all those laser beams.
This Atom seems
Just the type who screams.

[The LASER BEAMS turn off. ATOM shrivels and vanishes.]

A little love is a lovely sight,
But love this slight...
Just isn't right. [This final line is spoken]

(c) copyright 2003 Annals of Improbable Research (www.improbable.com)
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