An ant goes viral


An ant walk fascinates the social web: More than 1 million views on YouTube, more then 32,000 likes and almost 2,000 comments! What is behind the animation of the Cluster of Excellence ct.qmat - Complexity and Topology in Quantum Matter, which amazes the web?



Ideal conditions for an ant: On Klein's bottle, it can reach any point during a walk and yet never be caught - after all, the curious object has neither "inside" nor "outside"! The German mathematician Felix Klein described it for the first time in the 1880 - as a so-called "non-orientable surface". In other words, this bottle has only one side, no edge, and thus no volume - unlike the surface of a sphere.


Amazement, enthusiasm and skepticism - all the impressions that the social web has to offer are mixed in the more than 1,600 YouTube comments. The animation was originally a stopgap solution: "When the newly opened science exhibition 'Showcase of Research' at the Technische SAmmlungen Dresden could hardly be opened to visitors in 2020 due to COVID, we simply moved our content to the web," recalls Prof. Matthias Vojta, Dresden spokesperson of the Cluster of Excellence ct.qmat. To this day, Klein's bottle hangs in the museum as a glass object that you can explore with your own hands. Leipzig-based motion and graphic designer Jörg Bandmann created an animation especially for the web exhibition. Why exactly this ant walk is now suddenly becoming a YouTube phenomenon, remains a matter of speculation and could have something to do with the introduction of the new "Shorts" format on YouTube.


The fact is: "We are hugely excited about the success, even if we don't really understand the reasons," adds Würzburg cluster spokesman Prof. Ralph Claessen. "Since 2020, we have published almost 30 videos on our YouTube channel, and since January, professional physics explanation videos have been added as a QUANTube series on a monthly basis. It's great that the ant is convincing a particularly large number of people!"


But anyone who dismisses the little animal's walk as simply "strolling" on a bottle misses the joke of the geometric object: because Klein's bottle has no edge, it is a topologically interesting structure. If it were made of plasticine, it could be deformed without ever catching the ant. For the researchers at ct.qmat, topology - a branch of mathematics - is an important tool. They use it to explore and design topological quantum materials that are particularly robust as well as protect sensitive quantum states from perturbations - so that quantum technologies can unleash their revolutionary potential. Klein's bottle thus serves as an example of the topology that forms the core of the scientific work of the ct.qmat Cluster of Excellence.


Ants, by the way, also play a role in the game "Kitty Q - a Quantum Adventure". Whoever solves the puzzles of the mobile game will discover them. And those who have questions about quantum physics can ask them in the game's bonus app. They are answered by young scientists in the video series "QUANTube - short break science".



Date & Facts

17 May 2022


An ant walks on Klein's bottle. Here there is no "inside" and no "outside" - the ant can never be caught.
© Pixelwg/Jörg Bandmann

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