Last weekend, select artists from around the world and distinguished Cornell scientists gathered at Willard Straight Hall and Milstein Hall to present an exhibition that combined both science and art through the medium of light.
“LUX: Art and Science Exhibition,” the first display of its kind, promoted innovation and investigation within the arts and the hard sciences. Seven renowned “light” artists drew, sculpted and transformed light, altering how people normally interact with its luminosity. From mapping the universe to drawing with dust particles, the art installations attracted not just artists, but also scientists, engineers and architects.
Oisin Byrne’s “Universe Cubed,” a collaborative project between artist Oisin Byrne and Princeton’s Prof. J.R. Gott, projected the entire visible celestial sphere into a steel cube. According to Bryne, the piece represented the limitation of any conceptual understanding of an infinite universe.
“You take this idea of a massive universe and spell it down to the most abstract it can be. I like the idea of taking a slice out of something so big and bringing it down to a human scale,” Owen Smith ’14, an architect said.
The exhibit also featured artist Jason Krugman’s work with LED sculptures. Krugman shaped LED lattices into different shapes to show how advancements in technology lead to advancements in art.
“When low voltage lighting came out, it opened up all these new design possibilities because all of sudden, you didn’t have to bury all your wires in conductors to keep people from shocking themselves,” Krugman said.
Krugman’s work produced pieces reminiscent of deep-sea creatures or spacecrafts.
Each installation blended visual arts, science and nature in a unique way.
“I think the combination between physics and art, logic and creativity, is powerful. It’s not exactly the solar system or it’s not exactly water droplets or the honeycomb but it’s the artist’s interpretation of it,” Mary Bray Erickson ’14, an architecture, major said.
In addition to the exhibit, leading chemists, physicists, and biologist spoke on light and it’s countless manifestations in nature at a later event the weekend.
Prof. Cole Gilbert, biology, illustrated that light is also prevalent in nature with a lecture on bioluminescence, the production of light by living organisms. Fireflies use bioluminescence for courtships; maggots use bioluminescence to lure prey; and biologists use bioluminescence to see genes that are being activated.
“Some populations of dinoflagellates, single celled protists, release light when bumped,” Gilbert said. Adding that Dinoflagellates don’t have eyes, therefore they cannot be use bioluminescence for communication.
“As fish swim through colonies of dinoflagellates the larger fish see those streaks of light and may come over and eat those smaller fish who have been feeding upon the dinoflagellates,” he said.
Prof. Philip Krasicky, physics, began his talk with an introduction to the properties of light. He spoke of Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism, which state that light is a vibration of electric and magnetic fields in empty space. According to Krasicky, Maxwell’s equation raises the question: Can space actually be empty?
As it turns out, the emptiest vacuum of nothingness is teeming with activity on a microscopic level, inhabited by vibrations of light. White light can be broken down into its basic components: the colors of the rainbow.
Nevertheless, the only color that appears visible from this wide array is the color reflected off of the object. But objects that are inherently colorless, like soap bubbles or some insect wings, reflect a color based off of the specific light vibrations that interact with the microscopic structures within the object. The microscopic structures within the object pick apart the vibrations of light on a microscopic scale and control the way in which they are directed back out in different directions.
Controlling the direction of light is a key concept in “cloaking’ and “photonics is the ability to guide and bend light on minuscule dimensions,” said Prof. Michal Lipson, electrical and computer engineering.
According to Lipson, light rays that bend upon contact with an object inform the brain that something is there. But if the light rays come in parallel then the brain does not properly interpret the object’s presence.
“If we can redirect light after it encounters an object to make it parallel, our brain has no way of knowing something is there,” Lipson said, explaining that photonics can help create an invisibility cloak. The prototype for an invisibility cloak is made out of photonic technology in the form of little cones that redirect the incoming path of light so that it emerges perfectly parallel, Lipson said.
“Wanting to explore the principles of the natural world and the way things function, that exploration is an intellectual one as well as a physical one in trying things out,” Krugman said.