Saturday, March 01, 2008

Heart of Steel

Birth of an Idea

Chemical art with heart

[Here’s my latest Crucible column for Chemistry World, which appears in the March issue.]

Several years ago I attempted to launch a project that would use the methods of chemical synthesis as a means of sculpture, creating a genuine plastic art at the molecular scale. I shelved it when I saw that it was unrealistic to expect chemists to think like artists: they generally inherit an aesthetic that owes more to Platonic conceptions of beauty than to anything the art world has tended (now or ever) to employ.

But the experience brought me in contact with several people who seek to integrate the molecular sciences with the visual arts. One of them is Julian Voss-Andreae, a former physicist who now works as a sculptor in Portland, Oregon. Despite his background, much of Voss-Andreae’s work is inspired by molecular structures; his latest piece is a metre-and-a-half tall sculpture of an ion channel, commissioned by Roderick MacKinnon of Rockefeller University in New York who shared a Nobel prize for elucidating its structure. It has the elegance and textures of twentieth-century modernism: with its bare, dark metal and bright wire, supported on a base of warm, finely joined wood, it wouldn’t have looked out of place at the recent Louise Bourgeois exhibition at London’s Tate Modern gallery. The title, Birth of an Idea, alludes to the role of ion channels in creating the electrical impulses of our nerve cells.

I find it hard to imagine that sculptures like these could be made by anyone who did not have a deep understanding of what molecules are and what they do. Iconic images of DNA’s double helix are commonplace now (the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island has two), but do little more than express delight at the graceful spiral-staircase shape (while implicitly failing to acknowledge that this is crucially dependent on the surrounding solvent). Voss-Andreae’s molecular sculptures have more to say than that. His Heart of Steel (2005), placed at an intersection in the city of Lake Oswego in Oregon, is a steel model of the structure of haemoglobin, with a red glass sphere at its centre. The twisting polypeptide chains echo those depicted in physical models made in the early days of protein crystallography, photos of which would appear in research papers in lieu of the fancy computer graphics we see today. But Heart of Steel engages with the chemistry of the molecule too, because the steel structure, left exposed to the elements, has gradually (and intentionally) corroded until its coils have become rust-red, a recapitulation of the iron-based redness of our own blood cells. Blood and iron indeed, as Bismarck said of the German Empire.

It’s no surprise that Voss-Andreae is sensitive to such nuances. As a graduate student at the University of Vienna, he was one of the team led by Anton Zeilinger that conducted a ground-breaking experiment in quantum mechanics in 1999. The researchers showed that even molecules as big as C60 can reveal their fundamentally quantum nature under the right conditions: a beam of them passed through a diffraction grating will exhibit the purely wavelike property of interference. A subsequent experiment on C70 showed how interactions with the environment (a background gas of different densities) will gradually wash away the quantumness thanks to the process of decoherence, which is now recognized as the way the classical world emerges from the quantum.

Such experiences evidently inform Voss-Andreae’s Quantum Man (2006), a figure 2.5 m tall made from thin, parallel steel sheets that looks ‘classically’ solid when seen from one angle but almost disappears into a vague haze seen from another. C60 itself has featured in more than one of Voss-Andreae’s sculptures: the football cage, 9 m high, sits among trees in Tryon Creek State Park in Oregon.

Among Voss-Andreae’s latest projects is a sculpture based on foam. “My obsession with buckyballs seems to be due to their bubble-like geometry, which got me started on this new project”, he says. His aim is to produce a foam network that is ‘adapted’ to a particular boundary shape, such as the human body. This involves more than simply ‘carving’ a block of foam to the desired contours (as was done, for example, in making the spectacular swimming stadium for the Beijing Olympics), because, he says, “the cellular structure ‘talks’ with the boundary.” Voss-Andreae is attacking the problem both mathematically and experimentally, casting a resin in the gaps between an artificial foam of water-filled balloons. Eventually he hopes to cast the resulting structure in bronze.

I admit that I am not usually a fan of attempts to turn molecular shapes into ‘art’; all too often this draws on the chemist’s rather particular concept of beauty, and to put it bluntly, a pretty picture does not equate with art. But Voss-Andreae’s work is different, because it looks to convey some of the underlying scientific principles of the subject matter even to viewers who know nothing about them. That’s what good ‘sciart’ does: rather than seeking to ‘educate’, it presents some of the textures of science in a way that nudges the mind and enlivens the senses.


uhfdf said...

歐美a免費線上看,熊貓貼圖區,ec成人,聊天室080,aaa片免費看短片,dodo豆豆聊天室,一對一電話視訊聊天,自拍圖片集,走光露點,123456免費電影,本土自拍,美女裸體寫真,影片轉檔程式,成人視訊聊天,貼圖俱樂部,辣妹自拍影片,自拍電影免費下載,電話辣妹視訊,情色自拍貼圖,卡通做愛影片下載,日本辣妹自拍全裸,美女裸體模特兒,showlive影音聊天網,日本美女寫真,色情網,台灣自拍貼圖,情色貼圖貼片,百分百成人圖片 ,情色網站,a片網站,ukiss聊天室,卡通成人網,3級女星寫真,080 苗栗人聊天室,成人情色小說,免費成人片觀賞,

傑克論壇,維納斯成人用品,免費漫畫,內衣廣告美女,免費成人影城,a漫,國中女孩寫真自拍照片,ut男同志聊天室,女優,網友自拍,aa片免費看影片,玩美女人短片試看片,草莓論壇,kiss911貼圖片區,免費電影,免費成人,歐美 性感 美女 桌布,視訊交友高雄網,工藤靜香寫真集,金瓶梅免費影片,成人圖片 ,女明星裸體寫真,台灣處女貼圖貼片區,成人小遊戲,布蘭妮貼圖片區,美女視訊聊天,免費情色卡通短片,免費av18禁影片,小高聊天室,小老鼠論壇,免費a長片線上看,真愛love777聊天室,聊天ukiss,情色自拍貼圖,寵物女孩自拍網,免費a片下載,日本情色寫真,美女內衣秀,色情網,

liwo said...


女優王國,免費無碼a片,0800a片區,免費線上遊戲,無名正妹牆,成人圖片,寫真美女,av1688影音娛樂網,dodo豆豆聊天室,網拍模特兒,成人文學,免費試看a片,a片免費看,成人情色小說,美腿絲襪,影片下載,美女a片,人體寫真模特兒,熊貓成人貼,kiss情色,美女遊戲區,104 貼圖區,線上看,aaa片免費看影片,天堂情色,躺伯虎聊天室,洪爺情色網,kiss情色網,貼影區,雄貓貼圖,080苗栗人聊天室,都都成人站,尋夢園聊天室,a片線上觀看,無碼影片,情慾自拍,免費成人片,影音城論壇,情色成人,最新免費線上遊戲,a383影音城,美腿,色情寫真,xxx383成人視訊,視訊交友90739,av女優影片,