Superposition: physicists and artists in conversation

Ideas become reality

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I met Ben last Saturday to talk through my thinking for the artwork. I was excited to share my ideas but also a little nervous in case they didn’t reflect fully the physics covered in our previous meetings. I shouldn’t have worried; Ben’s wow expression when I revealed the model reassured me. Not only did it mirror the visual aesthetic of the particle detectors and the graphic representation of particle detection, the way in which the work would be fabricated and installed also paralleled the complexities of constructing and siting detectors.

So it’s now time to move full-steam ahead with meeting various fabricators and ordering materials – so far there’s 1.3 kilometres of brass rods and over 60,000 beads and diamantes! It’s going to be another of my hugely labour intensive works – exhausting and oddly rewarding all at the same time!

We’ll be announcing the venue soon – it’s amazing, perfect for the work and will create a unique art experience.

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Underground experiments

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Ever since I signed up for caving at Sheffield Uni during my PhD I have loved exploring underground - so I had great fun looking into possible underground locations for Lyndall's installation. The excitment of exploration, just like we flirted with at the Bargehouse, came right to the surface once again. We found so many exclusive, hidden spaces in London and we both wanted to explore them all - the same way Lyndall said she would love to explore the locations of all the experiments I had shown her. I explained how some were similar to underground experiments and why we go underground - to shield us from the showers of particles coming from cosmic rays all the time. Every second we have at least one heavy electron, called the muon, passing through us - more if we go up in a plane. To reduce all of these extra background particles we shield ourselves with 100's of metres of rock, so that we can be confident that the particles we see are not those from cosmic rays but instead the ones we want to see.

Ben

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The search for Atlantis

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Ben and I spent a few hours this afternoon looking for possible underground locations on the web, there are some amazing places out there – crypts, tunnels, dungeons, etc.. I’m keen for the venue to offer an unexpected or unusual journey, where the visitor feels they are embarking on an adventure. I keep thinking about Atlantis; what would greet you if you discovered a lost subterranean city? What would future explorers make of a particle detector, if it was unearthed thousands of years from now? Is my particle physics expedition meeting Indian Jones?   

Lyndall

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Physics of patterns

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Lyndall brought some prototypes ideas with her - what she called 3D sketches - of clear plastic globes with diamante patterns lit by LEDs. I was really struck by how similar they looked to the photomultiplier (PMT) setups used by neutrino telescopes (Ice Cube, Antares). I really liked the different ways in which the experimental setups were echoed by the pattern of diamante and haberdashery items in the globes - and loved the idea of playing with light as it plays such a crucial role in our experiments.

When it came to my turn to talk I wanted to move away from the detectors and talk more on how we choose to represent the data we take. The individual data are quite basic but we combine and recognise patterns in the data to extract complex physics. I talked of how it is a case of distillation - from many 1000's of reading of basic energy, position and time to just a few numbers which determine the physics of the patterns seen in our detectors. From 'raw' data to reconstructing patterns to connecting the patterns into one physical meaning it all involves different representation of the data. Lyndall particularly liked a couple of ways in which I represented my own research - in rainbow spectrum of colour and a grid search in coloured dots.

Ben

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Dreaming up all manner of props....

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Our recent meeting focused on how light is generated in the detectors and how the information relating to the detection of individual particles is represented graphically. The time of detection and the particle’s speed  is shown by using the rainbow colour spectrum; the results are extremely visual, artworks in their own right. I’m keen to incorporate Ben’s optimisation plots into my work somehow, I really love the use of colour and like the detectors themselves, the repletion of the circular form. I’ve always had a wee fetish for coloured dots!

I’ve been thinking a bit more about what the resulting work might be, don’t want to get too carried away with ideas just yet though, not until we know where the installation will be. I’d like to incorporate ice and/or water somehow, maybe through either video and/or photography. I’m beginning to feel a little like a set designer on a sci-fi film, dreaming up all manner of props!

Lyndall

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