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Particle physics and art

A complex field such as particle physics can also be communicated through art

September 3, 2015

In the context of the various manifestations of temporal and spatial disengagement — that Giddens [1] states as being characteristic of the practices in modern society — we witness a growing recognition that it is important to share spaces, experiences and knowledge between professionals of different scientific and artistic areas.

In fact there are already several projects of artistic residencies in scientific research laboratories, that have resulted in different ways to communicate science and to understand artistic products.

Particularly in CERN, the largest particle physics laboratory in the world, the creative interactions between scientists and artists have been officially promoted since 2009, with the [email protected] project.

This year, the result of this project is a dance and opera film, titled “Symmetry”, directed by Ruben van Leer, choreographed by Lucas Timulak and music by Joep Franssens and Henry Vega.

The narrative of this film focuses on the work of Lukas, a scientist at the LHC and his travel in time to the moment when the Big Bang occurred. [2] Throughout the film, dance is used as a means to visually communicate physical phenomena of particles that are studied at the LHC and are not visible to the naked eye. The use of human beings as scale to represent these phenomena is also worthy of note because it allows to have a clearer understanding of the particle movements, through the analogy created between movements we can do with our body in a daily basis and the movement of the particles (although some of the dance moves we see in the film are not easily performed by everyone …).

Another very interesting aspect is that the film was shot inside the LHC particle accelerator itself, a place we are used to see as being of very restricted access. This fact can also be the motto to an interesting analysis about the spatial disengagement of places of artistic production, namely when it is carried out in scientific research facilities..

More than the actual film itself, it is important to highlight the experience of interdisciplinary collaboration and what the professionals of the different areas take of it to their practices. You can get to know some impressions of scientists and artists who were part of this project here:

This project, among others, seems to respond to a need to recognize that art and science are not disjoint areas and, according to Brian Greene, they even share the same goal, to “discover the profound truths of reality”. [3] Would it be the case that the borders between science and other activities — which accentuated especially with the professionalization and specialization of science — are fading? Where will this lead us?


Written by Susana Pereira

Susana Simões Pereira, maths teacher and PhD in science teaching and communication. I enjoy games and photography and I'm passionate for science and art, specially when together in the same context. You can follow my updates on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.