Friday, January 28, 2011

Chris Henschke's Synchrotron Art

A Synchrotron is probably one of the meanest scientific instruments ever created. By slamming bits of matter into each other at near the speed of light, the Synchrotron can recreate time it's self as it were just moments after the big bang when the universe was a sieving soup of elementary particles that even the devil himself would find too hot to eat.

Seemingly, it has other uses to, such as creating Art, which Chris Henschke has been exploring since late 2007 at the Australian Synchrotron.

New Sun | infrared illuminations | Light bulb under infra-red beam | Chris Henschke
Being the "immense theoretical and technical complexity" which it is, the science behind the synchrotron comprises of many disciplines each of which requires its own years of study to understand. Faced with this complex web of information, Chris Henschke tackled the next question.

"How then, is it possible to communicate such concepts across the different scientific disciplines, let alone to the layperson"
- Chris Henschke

Delving into the cultural godforsaken nook & cranny where art and science collide, Chris struck upon a cord where the two have an intricate relationship; data representation.

When scientists need to talk to engineers, mathematicians, scientists in other disciplines or the community, representing data in an easy to understand way is a must.

With this in mind, Chris has championed new methods of analysing data and viewing the synchrotron and physics that lie at it's heart.

First however, Chris got an opportunity to play with the synchrotron and perform a set of experiments designed to introduce himself with its various parts.

For his first set of tasks, Chris experimented with using light bulbs in the paths of different beams that could be produced by the synchrotron. The movie above was created from his first experiments of firing a filtered optical beam from the synchrotron into an old light bulb from his childhood to re-illuminate it's filament.

This experiment with the light bulb became somewhat of a theme in which the idea was repeated using different beam lines, as can be seen in the first picture which used the synchrotron’s infra-red light beam to produce a picture that resembles our sun.

However, there was more to Chris' three month visit in 2007 than just the light bulbs. One of the more interesting experiments Chris performed was to inject various sounds into the synchrotron computers in order to tune the synchrotron beam to the wave length of the injected tune. Tunes chosen include a riff from a favourite tune from his old band and even a cicada he was listening to one day at work. By digitising the sound and injecting it into the synchrotron computers, the synchrotron beam could be manipulated until it's wave length and pulse appear to be just like that of the injected tune. Before too long, the Synchrotron was humming with the gentle tune of a cicada. Pretty cool ;).

After an initial three month residency in early 2008, Chris returned in July to transform some of the data he had collected during his time using some new image manipulation techniques developed whilst he was away. Using these new techniques and a series of images taken of synchrotron light, Chris started to develope some experimental images (above).

Proving popular, Chris started producing prints for the local scientists who were interested in taking home prints as fine art. Seeing his ideas develop, the synchrotron director got the crazy idea of redesigning the front foyer with the main focal point being a massive mural developed by Chris that would capture the essence of the synchrotron as these initial prints had proved could be done.

"I whipped up a proposal, got lots of quotes, test prints, bits of glass, etc, presented it, and (after a bit of “what the hell’s all that?!”) they liked it."
- Chris Henschke

In developing his ideas for the synchrotron mural, Chris came up with these initial concept images.

Then, after almost a year and hundreds, if not thousands of gigabytes of data, Chris finally developed his concept of "Accelerated Particle" for the 20 metre by 3 metre mural to capture the essence of the Australian Synchrotron. Bellow is quite a snazzy print.

But Chris' work was not over yet. In 2010, Chris returned for yet another stab at the Australian Synchrotron for what he called the Lightbridge project.

Lightbridge aims to create an audio-visual interface to explore the nature of the complex frequency harmonics generated from the synchrotron’s beam status and position data. Like his previous works, Chris wants to generate media that captures the essence of the Synchrotron, but unlike his previous works he needs to be able to make this real-time and have it available to other artists and researchers.

Exploring these possibilities early on, Chris and Dr Mark Boland were able use a terminal on the the optical beam line and Matlab to extract data from the accelerator storage ring and use this data to update the frequency and amplitude of a simple wave graphic. As an initial starting point, this was a good exercise to get familiar with the data extraction process and to play with some of the tools that may come in use for Chris' greater work, like the Quantum Light Tunnel animation below.

Over the last three years, Chris has produced some amazing images, animation and audio bites. He has been lucky enough to have been invited to CERN, the worlds largest synchrotron and has thus worked with some of the finest minds on this planet. To find the rest of Chris' synchrotron art you can check his blogs for both 2008 & 2010, youtube channel and website.

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