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    TRIUMF (The Art and Science of Particle Physics)

    I visited the TRIUMF lab at the University of British Columbia this week. This is one of three labs in the world that has the capacity to move the material world around at high speed to study the characteristics of sub-atomic matter. The other two are in Chicago (FermiLab) and Switzerland (CERN).

    TRIUMF outlined three goals in its 2008 Mission Statement:

    • Make discoveries that address the most compelling questions in particle physics, nuclear physics, nuclear medicine, and materials science
    • Act as Canada's steward for the advancement of particle accelerators and detection technologies
    • Transfer knowledge, train highly skilled personnel, and commercialize research for the economic, social, environmental, and health benefit of all Canadians 

    So, what was a humanities/art/design person like myself doing at Triumf? Well, Emily Carr has a collaboration with the lab that links science and art in a really interesting and productive way. Students from Emily Carr are working on visualizations of what Triumf does, which is gaze into those parts of the material world that the naked eye will never be able to see. Of course, the debate between the sciences and the arts has been going on for a long time. Suffice to say, that the differences are there, but the similarities, that is the desire to engage in creative thinking and output are shared.

    It was artists and scientists working in close proximity who developed a deeper understanding of perspective which led among other things to a fundamental shift in painting but also to a profound change in a variety of technologies. 

    Artists and scientists have always been early adopters and developers of new technologies. The interactions are too numerous to mention. This quote summarizes the potential and the beauty of art and science meeting on a common ground.

    "The materials in art pieces are universal. The sinuous molecules that bind pigments in oil paint are like those that beaded up in Earth’s primeval oceans to form the first cell. Glass is a translucent form of sand and is representative of the mineral content of the Earth’s mantle and Earth-like planets elsewhere. Metal is a relic of supernovae, the fiery stellar cataclysms that also enable biology by forging and ejecting life’s elements. Wood panels and paper are among the means by which formerly living things are brought into our service, making art an indirect homage to carbon and biology." The Living Cosmos: A Fabric That Binds Art and Science by Chris Impey and Heather Green (Leonardo, Volume 43, Number 5, October 2010, pp. 435-441)



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    Reader Comments (1)

    My father was an Electronics Technician in the RF group at TRIUMF from 1976 to 1983. As a kid, we went on a couple of tours there with my Dad. When I asked my Dad what he did at work that day, he'd talk about mesons and beamlines, and the Ion Stream Injection System, or being in something called "The Tank".

    I didn't understand much of it, but the concepts that I did understand absolutely fascinated me: the scale of things, the smallness of the particles, the speeds of transmission (0.75 the speed of light!), and the worldwide efforts and experiments involved.

    When Dad talked about these things, it was like physics suddenly became a dominant belief system in our household, full of questions and answers and the kind of mysteries that excited me in much the same way that I imagine people used to be excited when contemplating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.

    I went back and toured there with my wife a few years ago, and must admit that my feelings of wonder came back again the same as it did when I was eleven.

    January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterE. John Love

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