The abstract concepts of quantum physics often leave non-scientists ‘in the dark’, but collaborations between scientists and artists can illuminate the ‘dark matter’ of scientific theory, bringing them to light.
Students from the Royal College of Art recently joined forces with PhD physicists from Imperial College, with funding from the Institute of Physics, to explore the methodology and theory of quantum physics. The results of these collaborative experiments are now on show in the darkened, UV-lit basement chambers of Shoreditch Town Hall.
As you move from room to room, sound waves multiply and thicken as a bell tolls, particles whirl endlessly in a plastic and aluminium observation tank, and a ‘quantum computer’ clicks through calculations by moving glowing fluorescent fluids through plastic tubing. An architectural wooden maze has you unconsciously mimicking the behaviour of sub-atomic particles attracting and repelling each other through interactions with personal space.
The exhibitions are sensory, interactive and inventive. Have a go at playing a game of table football and watch as the inked ball creates random, interwoven trajectories like those observed at CERN. Play with geode-like geometric forms filled with lasers and watch the patterns that they create on the walls. Or stare into a lenticular print of an eye that is neither dilated nor constricted, but could be both.
The works explore the often abstract and binary nature of quantum phenomena and the methodology of how they are observed, which, in quantum mechanics, also fundamentally changes their properties. These works certainly invite further exploration and are highly thought-provoking; however, greater explanation of the scientific theories behind the art would be helpful. In spite of this, exploring these works in the darkened rooms results in a delightful sense of wonderment and curiosity.
Physics Happens in a Dark Place continues at the Shoreditch Town Hall, Old Street, until 15 May. Open weekdays from 6pm-9pm. Admission: Free. Please note that some of the artworks involve flashing lights.