Jiggling Atoms

Learn about all the funny bits in atoms with the new interdisciplinary project exploring particle physics via illustrative art

Katie Scott

This Autumn sees the launch of Jiggling Atoms, an interdisciplinary science x arts project exploring the oft baffling world of particle physics through illustration. Research physicists, Malte Oppermann (Quantum Optics & Laser Science PhD student at Imperial College London) and Dr. Ben Still (Queen Mary University), have collaborated with Natalie Kay-Thatcher, Jenny Crouch and co-curator Rosie Eveleigh, to work with 25 artists to increase the presence of science in the visual arts - opening up a channel of communication rarely explored.

Taking a unique teaching-based approach, the 25 artists attended a lecture series held at Imperial College where they explored a plethora of topics within particle physics, which they were unlikely to have studied in any real depth in their creative fields. The challenge was then set to create games, images, sculptures or info-graphics, to combine what the artists had learnt about scientific principles with their interpretative skills as artists.

The exhibition (and soon book) will feature the talents of both upcoming and established artists, including Sister Arrow, Zeel, Stephen Fowler, Katie Scott, Peter Nencini, Grace Helmer, Jimmy Patrick, Elizabeth Towndrow, Bryony Quinn and many more. For their launch events, Jiggling Atoms will also be running printmaking workshops and demonstrations hosted by the likes of Super/Collider's Abby Schlageter and physicists like John Butterworth discussing the Higgs Boson, plus science cocktails and cosmic soundtracks! Ahead of the launch, we chat to Mr Oppermann about science lols, pesky protons and the misconceptions about physicists...

Becoming a particle physicist and understanding everything about those objects is pretty hard. But being amazed by how they jiggle around and what they do to this world is much easier and can be quite a lot of fun...

Dazed Digital: What is the common misconception about modern scientists and scientific research?
Malte Oppermann:
I can imagine that many people don’t know how creative the job as a scientist turns out to be. We usually try to solve problems only very few people have even thought about, so there just aren’t many recipes around. Be it the solution of a mathematical problem or building a laser system that does exactly what you need for an experiment: a lot in science comes down to experience, trial and error and intuition. That’s what makes it so exciting!
 
DD: How difficult is it to explain particle physics (in an illustrative sense or otherwise) to those who don't know?
Malte Oppermann: The problem with particle physics is that you just cannot see those pesky particles without a giant particle detector. But in the case of electrons, everybody knows what they can do to the world, in form of electricity for example. Elementary particles – like the electron - are abstract, mathematical concepts, but physicists use them to explain and visualise the world around us. That’s their purpose after all! So it really has two sides. Becoming a particle physicist and understanding everything about those objects is pretty hard. But being amazed by how they jiggle around and what they do to this world is much easier and can be quite a lot of fun.
 
DD: Why do you think the worlds of science and art have not been integrated more before?
Malte Oppermann: Science has impacted art quite a lot in the past – and not only through technology for the production processes. A lot of Olafur Eliasson’s artworks are inspired by concepts from physics for example. However, with Jiggling Atoms we also try to move beyond the visual aesthetics of science and its concepts. Scientists constantly change the world we live in through their discoveries. They impact political decisions and influence the way we perceive and shape our environment. But in order to get this across, I believe that artists and scientists really have to collaborate and share their experiences and skills. Maybe this has made it difficult for artists to dive deeper into science.

DD: What has been the most fun thing about the project for you?
Malte Oppermann:
Giving lectures to our group of artists was an incredible experience. Most of them had a love-hate relationship with physics at school so I expected them to be quite sceptical about ending up in a lecture room again. I couldn’t have been more wrong! They got so excited and enthusiastic about all the stuff we’ve shown to them, it has given me a real boost to continue working with science. Perhaps every scientist feels like living on a lonely island sometimes; doing research only a group of experts is interested in. But through Jiggling Atoms I realised that this is just not the case. Most people are very excited about science and are just waiting for an opportunity to learn more about it. I hope that we can do just that with Jiggling Atoms.

The Jiggling Atoms exhibition will take place from 1st - 7th October 2012, at the Rag Factory, 16-18 Heneage Street, London E1 5LJ.

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