Monday, June 4, 2018

Radiation Photography and Energy Art

Peter Shellenberger's Radiation Art comes without a hazard warning.

What we call light is really just one kind of energy, the "visible" kind. This means it's an energy that falls within a range the electrical nerve circuits of our eyebrains are receptive to. There's other kinds of light, like infrared and ultraviolet light; you've heard of those. There are other kinds of energy that we don't even call light, like sound, and like nuclear radiation.

We definitely can't see nuclear radiation, which is only one of the reasons it's scary. It will literally smash your DNA to pieces until you are a lump of inert molecules. Then again, because we humans are so good at extending our sensory appendages, we can make special "eyes" to see this stuff.

Here's this artist, Peter Shellenberger, who lets a piece of radiating material do its thing in a box for over a month, recording the whole process on camera. He's actually using Fiestaware with uranium oxide.

Aside, Fiestaware, besides being "the most collected brand of china in the United States" (NYTimes) is also well-known for being radioactive, although it isn't anymore; I mean the radioactive kind is no longer sold on the market (although it's obviously still available, which is how Mr. Shellenberger got it for his artwork). The red-orange glaze is made of uranium oxide. Anything made with that red-orange color, at that time (let's say 1940's-ish), is probably made with the same radioactive material.

In fact, as a former ceramicist and art teacher, I was taught to avoid all red glazes, but mostly for lead not radioactivity. Radioactive material is so locked down nowadays that you're not likely to come in contact with it (unless you're getting cancer treatment). Then again, it depends on where you buy it. I can tell you from firsthand experience using a lead detector crayon on a bunch of different dinnerware products - you better think twice and check for yourself before you use anything on a daily basis, especially if it's hot or acidic, and especially if you have kids (who are more susceptible to the negative effects of lead, or anything for that matter).

Cloudlabs helps us visualize cosmic energy.

Personally, I think this next one is way cooler. It's called informally a cloud chamber, and it is a way to show us all kinds of particles that are whizzing through the air around us. 

Here's a description of how it works from the youtube page:
A sealed glass container contains liquid alcohol at the top. Emanating alcohol vapors fill the whole volume of the container until they reach the bottom of the chamber maintained to a very cold temperature (-40°C).

Most of the vapour condenses on the glass surface creating a mist, but a small fraction of it stays in vapour form above the cold condenser. This creates a layer of unstable sursaturated vapour which can condense at any moment. When a charged particle crosses this vapor, it can knock electrons off the molecules forming ions. It causes the unstable alcohol vapor to condense around ions left behind by the travelling ionizing particle : the path of the particle in the matter is then revealed by a track composed of thousands droplets of alcohol.

Any charged particle is visible in a cloud chamber. The most common ones are alphas, electrons, positons, protons, nuclear charged fragment, muons (...). Theses particles come from natural cosmic and telluric background radiations or from close radioactive sources. They will all leave tracks of different shapes in the chamber, based on their charge, mass and speed. Electrons are the lightest particles and will be easily deflected by magnetic fields. Alphas and protons are much heavier and slower and will thus ionize more, causing denser track of droplets. Interactions of neutral particles like gamma rays or neutrons can be seen thanks to the charged particles they create in matter.

check out their lab here -
check out the video here


Peter Shellenberger
Moberg Gallery, 2018

**Still can't find my blowdryer picture...anyone that knows of someone using an IR camera to capture blowdryer drawings on canvas, help me out.

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