Traditional narratives are not able sufficiently to represent our complex scientific reality anymore. This failure of narrative constitutes an urgency to address a crisis of representation in our culture and society by promoting and teaching systemic thinking.
During our Bridge collaboration with Thanassis, we are producing a non-linear digital narrative as a response to this crisis, based on astrophysical data from the TRIUMF particle collider in Vancouver.
We are using non-traditional data visualization techniques, 3D animation, digital simulations presented partially thru live performance and a planetarium dome projection.
This narrative explores the existential relationship between the practice of fundamental research and socio-historical construction of epistemic structures that constitute fundamental research since the pre-Socratic era. We are looking at technical production of scientific knowledge, facts, and theories, what constitutes platforms that produce such facts, and how are these platforms positioned between the nature and society leading to a profound question: how can we have ideas about our universe that are true and how do we reflect those ideas in culture and society?
In particular, our narrative traces the evolution of the atomist and materialist theory thru the history into recent scientific theories of relativity and quantum physics. We would like to locate addresses of various elements that we are made of, to specific types of stars and eras, where these atoms were born. We would want to contemplate an idea that life is composed of these particles, which in particular patterns became conscious, and they represent a metaphorical way how the universe becomes aware of itself.
The idea of this project started form scratch and slowly evolved into this collaborative framework we have now. We had long conversations about particles, matter, and question surrounding contemporary theories in physics. In the end, we decided to trace back these ideas to their roots in pre-socratic ancient Greece.
We decided to use experimental data Thanassis produced utilizing the DRAGON detector at the TRIUMF research facility in Vancouver and make them part of our narrative. Because this data is in a particular format, we are writing a custom algorithm to access them. At the end of November 2017, I visited Thanassis in Vancouver and took a lot of documentary footage which will be used in interaction with the data.
Simultaneously with the work on the data we started developing the nonlinear narrative structure based on relationships between scientific ideas, philosophy, and society.
I am delighted that I had the opportunity to meet Thanassis thru the SciArt Bridge residency. He has a bright, very open mind and can see the potential of art in connection with fundamental scientific fields. I think this is unique and also powerful position for a scientist.
Our collaboration allowed me to expand my horizons and built on ideas and critical thinking I had been already fostering as part of my Ph.D. research on science, culture, and technology.
To finish our project my institution - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute offered me unique opportunity to collaborate with the Tactical Humanities Lab. Right now I am assembling a small team of undergraduate students from Games and Simulation department to help develop the project. We will continue our dialogue with Thanassis, and in April we will present results of our collaboration at the at McMaster University’s McCallion Planetarium, where Thanassis works.
I am thrilled that I was part of this residency and that SciArt enabled such a great opportunity also with the travel funding to visit TRIUMF in Vancouver. Together we will push the borders of Art and science closer, and that could enable us to discover new horizons and impacts of knowledge.
I can’t believe that it has been over six months since I first saw the call for submissions for the
Bridge residency. It was a hot July evening in Vancouver, and I couldn’t stop thinking about
how it would be to work with an artist. I was sure that would be the perfect opportunity to fulfill
that dream of mine and applied without second thoughts. Almost a month passed after that
day and when I got the email that I was matched with Matej I was super excited! Our first
Skype call happened to be during an experiment of mine and I was almost sleepless that day,
though I was so happy to meet both him and Julia. During the next months we had lots of
interesting discussions with Matej, many ideas and at some point our project came to life: a
sci-fi movie about Nuclear Astrophysics. I was really excited that Matej was interested about
my field of research. The highlight of our collaboration so far is definitely our meeting in
Vancouver last November. Even though we stayed couple of days there, we had the chance
to get to know each other better and work towards our project. Matej discussed with many
scientists there, we got interviewed by TRIUMF lab (it will be out soon) and eventually got our
raw audiovisual material for the movie. At the moment we have started editing and we also
work on the story. We hope to be done by this April, to present it at McCallion Planetarium
and potentially to other venues in North America. I hope our collaboration won’t stop with that
project and we might have the chance to create something new in the future. Reflecting back
to that July evening, I’m sure I made the correct choice applying for this residency and I would
definitely recommend it to any researcher. Try collaborating with an artist. It’s an illuminating
and unique experience. Finally, I would like to acknowledge all the effort made by SciArt
Center, and especially Julia who is coordinating this residency. Thanks a lot once again, this
residency has really helped me to develop as a scientist and it was one of the best things that
happened to me last year :)
I just can’t believe that it’s time for me to write the last blog post for this residency! These
three months flew by so quickly, but I’m glad I had this unique opportunity to work with Matej
and learn so many things.
My week was very busy but memorable. I traveled to Prague and Berlin and now I’m back in
Greece to visit my parents for the holidays. One of the highlights of the trip to Prague was my
visit to DOX - Centre for Contemporary Art (after Matej’s recommendation!). It’s a unique
place with very interesting exhibitions.
In other news, I got interviewed by several media outlets about a planetarium show I produced and presented about the Science of Star Wars. I hope we get that much publicity for our movie!
Speaking of which, we haven’t made any progress, since we were both busy, but the holiday
time will be full of work! I’ve also started a book by David Bohm about Causality and Chance
in Modern Physics, which is very relevant to our project with Matej in terms of the philosophical aspect and I find it really interesting so far.
Before finishing my last blog, I would like to thank once again Julia and Kate for all the help
they provided to us during the last months. Without them, nothing would be possible. Finally,
my dream to collaborate with an artist - which I had mentioned in my application for the
residency - has become a reality :)
Hope to see you soon!
It is incredible that we are almost couple of weeks away from the end of this residency! It’s
been three wonderful months so far and I really look forward for the future, because that was
just the beginning of a long-term collaboration.
Last week I took a first look at Matej’s footage and I was really impressed by his work so far.
The “raw material” is great, and I’m sure our movie will be both aesthetically pleasing and -
the most important - thought provoking.
Next week Matej and I will start the production of our sci-fi movie, including editing of the
footage we got from TRIUMF and the manipulation of my experimental data. All of these will
be presented in the framework I’ve discussed so many times in this blog (but that’s the last
one): the connection of ancient pre-socratic philosophy with the modern ideas of quantum
mechanics and relativity and the connection of humans with the universe.
We are also waiting for an answer about our abstract submission for the Leonardo
symposium, which I have a good feeling that it will get accepted, and in the next few days an
interview we gave at the TRIUMF laboratory will be out online.
That’s all for now, more after Christmas! :)
Last Friday, thanks to a generous contribution of SciArt, I was able to visit Thanassis at the TRIUMF research facility in Vancouver. This step was a critical part of our collaboration. I recorded a lot of film material inside the DRAGON facility and the collider hall. Predominantly still video scenes. The most exciting part was being able to take a ride in a crane which offered nice rolling shots of the whole facility form a birds-eye perspective. I had the opportunity to examine all the research equipment carefully and think about how to bring the concepts of what they represent both, physically and philosophically together in our science fiction movie. By the way, we keep calling it a movie, but it will be rather almost three dimensional a spatial experiment because it will be projected in 360 degrees inside planetarium dome.
I am glad that I had the opportunity to meet the whole Dragon team led by Chris Ruiz. Everyone was very open and helped to facilitate the entire visit and movie shoot. On Chris's suggestion right now we are in negotiation with the Vancouver Planetarium about using their 360 dome camera. If this would work out, we could do a hi-res 360 scan of the whole facility. That will be a fantastic addition to the movie. Fingers crossed.
An equally essential parts of my visit were our lengthy discussions with researcher Devin Connolly about nature of the data collected at the DRAGON facility and possibilities for its visualization. After December 15th we are starting working on that.
At the time of my visit to TRIUMF, together with Thanassis, we were able to take over SciArt's Instagram. Below I am sharing a few photographs of the visit. We were also interviewed TRIUMF media center. The interview should be published soon.
I would like to thank everyone at TRIUMF for a great deal of hospitality and feeding my curiosity about particle physics: Thanassis, Chris, Devin and Ashwini
Hello world! I came back to Hamilton from Vancouver last Wednesday. The trip was A M A Z I N G! I learned a lot during the experiments and the most important is that we made a huge step in our project with Matej. We didn’t have as much time as we really wanted, but we managed to get many things done during three very busy days. Matej took footage from the lab from every possible way - even from a crane ~ 7m tall! - and had lots of discussions with local scientists who were very excited about our project. I think he enjoyed the lab and the people there and I am very happy that I was part of this experience.
The “raw material” for our sci-fi movie is almost ready and now we need to get my experimental data into the game around mid December, when Matej will be done with his academic obligations. We will also start working on the 3D animations and the footage we got from the lab then. We expect the movie to be ~20 minutes long and we plan to have our “world premiere” at McCallion Planetarium, here in Hamilton, this April.
Something we are really excited about is that we might have a chance to get lab footage from a 360 camera! We have made some initial conversations with a Planetarium in Vancouver, which can borrow it to us. It’s not final yet, but it would be awesome if we can get it.
See you next week! :)
This week we applied with Thanassis to a National Academy of Sciences Arthur M Sackler
Colloquium on Collaborative Creativity While we discussed the colloquium, we stumbled upon a
science fiction movie both of us admire - 2001: A Space Odyssey. We decided to watch it again
and write about it. So here are my notes from the movie:
I applaud the fact that music and sound effects do not drive this film. They are present but only
where it is necessary. This lack of sound renders the piece almost a silent movie. This absence is
very well balanced with stunning imagery. I have three favorite scenes. The opening scene, the
"trans-dimensional" flight, and the ending.
Of course, I also appreciate all the spaceship designs, but these three scenes, or at least one of
them, are quite unusual for a science fiction movie. The one that stands out for me the most is
the opening scene. The invention of the tool, how the tool turns into a weapon, and discovery
of the obelisk are contrasted with the "everyday life" of the mammals. The way how this scene
cuts into the following image, a flying spaceship, are just gorgeous. There is so much said
without words. Regarding the relationship between sound and image, I would also highlight the
silent explosion scene in the decompression chamber.
The space travel that follows after the discovery of the last obelisk near Jupiter represents that
state of the art computation and computer graphics of the end of the sixties. Personally, I
appreciate its simple proto-aesthetics.
The ambiguity of the storyline and its ending is forcing the viewer to rely upon, or just
appreciate images. This uncertainty was quite radical at the time and leaves the ending to the
Woohoo! It’s been 10 weeks since we started collaborating with Matej and things have started
to become really interesting! As you may already know if you read that blog - I’ve mentioned
it so many times - this week I’m traveling to Vancouver, BC to participate in two experiments
in the TRIUMF lab and Matej will also be there for few days to work together on our science
fiction planetarium movie. At that time we will also takeover SciArt Center’s Instagram
account, so get ready for some really neat science posts!
Beyond that, we have also submitted an abstract for a symposium organized by Leonardo -
the international society for the arts, sciences and technology. It is called Role/Play:
Collaborative Creativity and Creative Collaborations and it’s something Julia brought to
our attention - thank you once again! Actually this is my first time submitting an abstract for a
non-physics related conference and I’m very excited about it! Unfortunately, I won’t be able to
attend it, since I’ll be in Germany for - guess what - a nuclear physics workshop/conference,
but I’m sure that Matej will represent our collaboration perfectly! Working for the actual
abstract was also a very funny experience, because it turned out that we have both written
very similar texts after we compared them. I conceive it as a sign that our collaboration is in a
good track :)
While working on that, Matej also shared a short video from Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece
2001: A Space Odyssey, the dawn of man scene.
This is an iconic science fiction movie and we both agree on the fact that we should use it as
an inspiration for our own creation. Obviously we are not even close to the genius of
Kubrick’s, however we can grab some of his ideas and incorporate them to the movie. We
want the audience to realize that its existence is inseparable with the rest of the universe.
See you all next week from Vancouver!
Past week I had been quite busy because my school sent me to a three-day conference in Louisiana. However, I had been developing our sci-fi story. As Kate Schwarting suggested, in term of the narrative path, I Had been looking at Samuel Beckett's Not I for character development and Tim Ingold’s concept of wayfaring for storyline format.
According to Ingold "In wayfaring, … one follows a path that one has previously travelled in the company of others, or in their footsteps, reconstructing the itinerary as one goes along. Only upon reaching his destination, in this case, can the traveller truly be said to have found his way.” (p.16, 2016)
Another sources of inspiration in relation to the form of our story line is Borghes’s science fiction story Garden of Forking Paths and Interactive Digital Narrative by Koenitz, Ferri, et al.
As Thanassis suggested, I had been also looking into Socratic Greek philosopher Anaximander and I'm considering adding to our collection of characters - as Democritos, Leucippus, Epicurus, and Lucretius.
Ingold, Tim. Lines: A Brief History (Routledge Classics) (p. 16). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
We are have crossed the half way point of this residency program – but I’m sure that my collaboration with Matej will go far beyond that – and things look great. This week we decided take a step back and search for more inspiration. We are both quite busy in our work lives: Matej is at a conference in New Orleans – lucky guy – and I’m working on the preparations for my trip in Vancouver, which is next week.
Nevertheless, I found some spare time and looked for animations, mainly through platforms like Tumblr that we could use as influence for our sci-fi show.
We also got some references on storytelling and theory of theatre from Kate - thanks again :) which will definitely help us in terms of structuring the show.
Beyond that, I went back to my ancient Greek philosophy readings and more specifically into the works of the pre-Socratic philosophers Heraclitus and Democritus. Every time I read about their teachings I get fascinated by the fact that they did that over 2000 years ago! Also, I find intriguing the fact that their philosophy doesn’t only cover the “physical sciences”, but politics politics and society. The last bit is also connected to my mentality on how a scientist should behave in a society (see previous blog– -interview with Matej).
It is also worth noted that the philosophy of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, that followed the pre-Socartics, is the foundation of the western school of thought.
Two of the quotes that stood out when I was reading were the following:
“You cannot get to the same river twice” by Heraclitus
Which is connected to his famous “everything moves” quote. The universe is in a constant motio. Despite the fact that something may seem stable, in a more deep sense it is always changing. The most striking example is ourselves: we grow older every day, our cells are regenerated entirely every decade!
“Everything existing in the universe is the fruit of chance and necessity.” by Democritus
Democritus was, in modern terms, a very strong advocate for materialism. According to him, everything was either atoms or void space. Even the psyche was, according to him, made out of fire atoms.
Brace yourselves, because my blogs for the next two (maybe three) weeks will be all about nuclear physics experiments and how they help us understand our origins!
Thanks to SciArt’s contribution, I finally purchased airplane tickets and Airbnb in Vancouver, so I am ready to visit TRIUMF at the end of November. I am looking forward to some great camera shots around the particle collider. These shots will become part of the science fiction movie we are preparing with Thanassis. I am very excited about its non-traditional format. It will be made especially for Thanassis's planetarium. This planetarium is smaller than the Hayden at the Museum of Natural History, but that is, in my opinion, an advantage. Its capacity is, I think, somewhere between ten to twenty people, which could offer genuinely personal and immersive experience with the projections. We are even considering using one or two actors, which would also be unique, since actors are traditionally not present in planetarium shows. I realized that creating a storyboard for such presentation is not an easy task. We already started discussing possibilities, but it is far from finished. First, we are trying to outline "characters" and other elements that would create networks of relationships with data from the particle collider. We are considering to use early atomists - ancient philosophers Democritos, Leucippus, Epicurus, and Lucretius with his poem Derrerum Natura. We would like to trace the evolution of the atomist and materialist theory thru the history into recent scientific theories of relativity and quantum physics. We would like to trace addresses of various elements that we are made of, to specific types of stars and eras, where these atoms were born. We found a few inspiring artworks below:
The last week was very productive for our team. We had a Skype call last Sunday, where we discussed a bit about the story of our sci-fi planetarium show, and the details for our trip to Vancouver. To be honest, we don’t have a concrete plan yet, however there are many ideas on the table. The only question now is how we will synthesize them in order to serve our narrative.
Our main topic will be the atomic theory, as formulated by the Greek Philosophers, and how it was evolved through the years until the birth of Quantum Mechanics. We also want to raise awareness about the connection of humans with the universe. One of my ideas for the second part was to have a human body disassembled and then the atoms of which the person was made of swirl around the dome and return back to the cosmos.
Matej has already found a way to access and manipulate my experimental data, and he’s also planning to perform some simulations of different star types which produce different elements in the universe.
The weirdness of quantum mechanics was also brought to the table. I shared a video with Matej, where at the first part an electron revolves aroud a nucleus, much like a planet revolves around the Sun. That was our old understanding of the electrons, before the quantum formulation. At the second one, things become more interesting: the electron jumps from one place to another, until at the end it is transformed into a probability distribution around the nucleus. We cannot locate the electron, but we can calculate its probability of being at a specific region around the nucleus.
How we first though electrons revolve around a nucleus, and how the actually move.
This week I installed the Python ROOT library via Unix terminal and tried to open some data files that I received from Thanassis. Some of it is real data and some of it is a simulation. It worked out, but I still need to make some minor adjustments to get what we need. I also found out how to export an ASCII XML file, which is a critical step for the possible data visualization. Now I will attempt to install the ROOT library directly into Autodesk Maya and Houdini, but even if that will not work out, we can use the ASCII file instead.
The ROOT is a compelling data analysis platform made by the CERN. I was astonished at what I found in the files I received. The Dragon is using an impressive amount of variables. I think I counted somewhere between 50 and 100. In our case, a data variable equals to one data input from the particle collider experiment. This is very exciting, and I am learning a lot!
I am still working on the story for the science fiction movie where we are going to use the data visuals. The story is not in a presentable form yet, but hopefully next week!
(Listen to Matej's art an science podcast at biocollider.art)
This week we had a Skype meeting with Kate Schwarting. We discussed our progress so far and our short term goals. Kate gave us some piece of advice and she could also help us in terms of the storytelling techniques we’re going to use given her previous theatre experience.
We still working on a way to use my research data on a 3D animation software that Matej uses. I think we are close to a breakthrough ☺
In three weeks Matej and I will be at Vancouver, BC to visit the TRIUMF lab. I’ll participate in two experiments with different setups: the first one will be at DRAGON (see previous blog post) and the other one at IRIS (more in future blog).
Matej will have the unique experience to visit a word class nuclear physics laboratory, discuss with other researchers and take pictures/videos for our planetarium show. During last week’s meeting, he told us that he’s thinking of using Democritus as one of the main characters of the sci-fi story we are working on. I find it an amazing idea to connect ancient philosophers with modern research like nuclear astrophysics.
This week I received an official invitation for visiting TRIUMF which is very exciting. We also focused on finding out a way how to translate raw ROOT data file from Thanassis’s DRAGON experiment into a format readable by 3D programs like Maya and Houdini. So far it looks like I need to write a simple Python patch to do the translation. Luckily Python is part of both Maya and Houdini, and there is a Python ROOT library that should ease the job. Houdini is an excellent data visualization program and works well with Maya, so I am looking forward to digging into this!
(Listen to Matej's art an science podcast at biocollider.art)
Things are going great between me and Matej! We are still trying to find an elegant way to share my data in an easy-to-read format and after that he will consult his coleagues to consider ways to incorporate them in our sci-fi movie.
Apart from that, Matej will visit me at TRIUMF lab in Vancouver next month to see the lab, take pictures of the DRAGON facility and some short videos. He might use them for the planetarium show, or other future projects.
The experiment that will be running at that time will be 15O(α,γ)19Ne. 15O is the beam and 19Ne is the nucleus will be synthesized. 15O has 8 protons and 7 neutrons (thus the 15, which is its mass number). The “common” oxygen is 16O, with 8 protons and 8 neutrons and 99.762% of all oxygen atoms on Earth are like that. 15O is an unstable isotope, meaning that it cannot stay that way for long. It decays into 15N, by converting one proton into a neutron, a positron (positive electron) and a neutrino. For how long it will remain like that before decaying is called mean lifetime and it’s a statistical quantity. If we had 100 15O atoms, we would had only 50 in approximately 2 minutes! Now imagine that we create a beam of these atoms, thousands and thousands of them! These radioactive ion beams, like 15O, consist one of the huge advances of nuclear science in the late 1980’s. TRIUMF is one of the few radiactive beam facilities worldwide and the only one in Canada.
The 15O(α,γ)19Ne reaction is believed to occur in massive red stars, like Betelgeuse, the brightest star of the Orion constellation. Reactions like this one are critical to understand how stars produce energy and how they create the chemical elements.
Betelgeuse, the brightest star of the Orion constellation (left). An image taken from the ALMA telescope (right)
I am extremely happy that Matej will make that trip! It will be a great experience for him and a great opportunity for us to disseminate our research with the public. As I’ve already mentioned in previous blogs, art is the best way to convey ideas and feelings to people.
This weekend I started a podcast show about art and science - biocollider.art. The first published podcast is an interview with Thanassis. You can sign up for the podcast also at the iTunes store: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/biocollider/id1294166099?mt=2
I am thrilled that further step we are taking is processing data from the cyclotron particle collider and I will be able to visit Thanassis at TRIUMF and shoot a short movie about the collider and Dragon project. This visit will be a big step in the development of the science fiction movie. We still have to decide how exactly we will work with the data. There are multiple avenues we can take and incorporate into the film, so now we are in the process of choosing the best one.
This week was quiet for me and Matej. Beyond the publication of my interview – which can be found here (https://t.co/W2LRfcxc1Y) – check it out Matej did a wonderful work on it -
and a Skype call with Julia, where we discussed our projects so far, we didn’t produce much.
Tonight we had our weekly meeting and we were considering the possibility of Matej travelling with me at TRIUMF lab in Vancouver next month, to shoot some shots of the experimental hall for our sci-fi planetarium show. He also wants to come over to Hamilton to visit McCallion Planetarium and get a better idea about the venue. I have also shared some data from my latest experiment. He will discuss with some artists in his school to find ways of visualizing them. One of his ideas is to use some of my 1D histograms as coordinates for the movement of a 3D object.
Things are looking good from our part and great things are on the making!