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August 1, 2011
Volume 89, Number 31
pp. 56

Chemistry-Inspired Art, Bite-Size Research

Jeff Huber

Conrad Erb/Chemical Heritage Foundation
Chemical vision: Clark poses with “Braille.”
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Right now, inside the museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF), in Philadelphia, two of the strangest eye charts in the world are hanging next to each other. One is made entirely of braille characters, and the other features a list of the CHEMICAL ELEMENTS. The charts look almost like something out of the office of an eccentric optometrist who practices alternative medicine. But they’re not. Rather, the two charts compose “Braille,” a piece that Nova Scotian artist David Clark created after being inspired by Dmitri Mendeleev, the father of the periodic table.

The installation “reminds you that all the senses are needed in chemistry,” says Marjorie Gapp, curator of art and images at CHF. Since Feb. 4, Gapp and the museum have curated “Elemental Matters: Artists Imagine Chemistry,” an exhibit that celebrates works—such as Clark’s “Braille”—inspired by the chemical elements. The exhibit is part of CHF’s International Year of Chemistry festivities.

To Gapp, the art displayed in “Elemental Matters” goes a long way toward telling the central science’s full story. “Chemistry is so much more than a laboratory,” she tells Newscripts. “These artists help you experience chemistry in a different way.”

Take, for instance, Susan Alexjander. For her exhibit submission, the Lake Oswego, Ore.-based composer identified eight chemical elements that are essential to life (such as hydrogen and carbon). She then mapped the magnetic-field-induced oscillations of the nuclei in these elements, called Larmor frequencies, to audible frequencies with a synthesizer, making music (C&EN, Oct. 5, 2009, page 43). Alexjander’s soundtrack plays throughout “Elemental Matters,” providing the exhibit with, as Gapp puts it, an “ethereal” atmosphere.

Fork: Gateway to appropriate bite size.

To Alexjander, the exhibit’s merging of chemistry and art makes perfect sense. “There are so many artists that use science as an inspiration, and I think there are more scientists that are being inspired by art,” she says. “I just see science and art getting closer and closer.”

“Elemental Matters” runs at the Museum at CHF until Dec. 16.

For weight-conscious art enthusiasts thinking of stopping at a restaurant on their way home from the museum, researchers at the University of Utah have one piece of eating advice: TAKE LARGE BITES.

In a forthcoming Journal of Consumer Research study that was published online on June 2, Arul Mishra, Himanshu Mishra, and Tamara M. Masters, all of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business, report that large bites could actually be useful in curbing the overconsumption of food. The research team came to this conclusion after giving patrons at a local Italian restaurant either a small or large fork with which to eat. Monitoring the two groups’ levels of consumption, the research team discovered that patrons using a small fork tended to eat more food than those using a large fork—a phenomenon the team attributes to the patrons’ goal of achieving hunger satisfaction.

“Diners focus on the visual cue of whether they are making any dent on [sic] the food on their plate to assess goal progress,” the researchers write. When using a small fork, “diners feel they are not making much of a dent in consuming their food,” they add. To compensate, small-fork diners take more bites of food, thereby eating more than their large-fork counterparts. To combat this trend, the research team recommends that diners use larger forks to facilitate larger bites.

Taking larger bites in the short term can prevent overeating in the long term? Suddenly, biting off more than you can chew doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.

Jeff Huber wrote this week's column. Please send comments and suggestions to newscripts@acs.org.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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Chemistry and Art Unite

Since Feb. 4, the museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) has been hosting the exhibit Elemental Matters: Artists Imagine Chemistry, which showcases the work of seven artists who have been inspired by the periodic table of the elements.

Gregory Tobias/CHF
The title wall of the Elemental Matters exhibit displays "Song of Which," a piece by New York City's Dove Bradshaw. The image depicts a nude woman encased by a diaphanous material on which the human body's chemical elements have been listed.
Gregory Tobias/CHF
This long shot displays the exhibit's title wall (right) alongside two works by Nova Scotia's David Clark: "I don't think you understand the way I feel about the stove," in which 118 stove coils form the shape of the periodic table, and "Braille," in which two eye charts one depicting only chemical element symbols and the other depicting only braille characters hang side by side.
Courtesy Dove Bradesahw and Larry Becker Contemporary Art, Philadelphia
A close-up of Bradshaw's "Song of Which." According to CHF Curator of Art & Images, Marjorie Gapp, the font size of the chemical elements listed on the translucent material encasing the nude is in proportion to the amount of each element that exists in the body.
Gregory Tobias/CHF
German artist Brigitte Hitschler took an abandoned potash mine in Hanover-Empelde, Germany, and turned it into something beautiful for "Energy Field 1." The photograph captures the image of 400 light-emitting diodes (LEDs) glowing red atop the mine's hillside.
Courtesy of Brigitte Hitschler
To create "Energy Field 1," Hitschler used pieces of magnesium, copper, and zinc to affix 400 LEDs atop a series of brass tubes. She then planted these tubes, along with two galvanic cells, into the mining site's hillside. With the galvanic cells capturing energy generated by the chemical reactions between the mine's salt residue; the humidity; the brass tubes; and the magnesium, copper, and zinc connected to the LEDs, the 400 diodes glowed red against a dark sky.
Gregory Tobias/CHF
In another long shot, Bradshaw's "Song of Which" shares space on the title wall with Rebecca Kamen's "Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Ether." Kamen's work uses Mylar and fiberglass rods to three-dimensionally depict the Platonic solids, five geometric shapes that the ancient Greeks believed made up all matter. In the foreground of this shot sits Jennifer Schmitt's "The Periodic Table Printmaking Project." For her installation, Schmitt enlisted the help of 97 artists in developing prints for all 118 elements of the periodic table. "It's an awesome piece," Gapp marvels.
Gregory Tobias/CHF
Two works by New Orleans artist Kevin H. Jones are displayed. "Broadcasting to Unknown Points" (left) depicts chemical element symbols appearing beside perplexing images. "The imagery," explains the Museum at CHF, "invites us to find other associations for oxygen, nitrogen, silicon, phosphorus, and arsenic." In "Radium, Helium, Uranium, Mercury" (right), individual elements are conceived of as books. The book "Helium," for instance, contains a balloon that floats throughout its pages.
Conrad Erb/CHF
Two exhibit visitors admire Kamen's sculptures of element orbitals. According to the museum, an element's electron orbital patterns are "the most ethereal aspect of an atom."
Conrad Erb/CHF
A couple of exhibit visitors survey Bradshaw's "Waterstone," in which water drips onto a limestone block and gradually erodes it. "With delicacy and restraint, a record is made of moments passing," explains the Museum at CHF. On the wall behind these visitors are two more Bradshaw works. Similar to Bradshaw's "Song of Which," both of these pieces play with the image of a nude posing alongside written depictions of the human body's chemical elements.
Conrad Erb/CHF
Inside this glass case, 59 glass flasks make up "Self Interest" by Bradshaw. For the piece, Bradshaw imagines a 100-lb human body. She then constructs 59 flasks in such a way that their size is proportional to the amount of mass 59 chemical elements would exhibit within a 100-lb body.
Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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