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Poems About Light An exhibition in four parts about our understanding and the experience of discovery.

The Blyth Gallery Imperial College London 28th May to 12th June 2014


Present Light - Our Sun All life on Earth owes itself to the Sun, our nearest star. This series of paintings shares some of the things we know.


Join Oil on fine linen 21 x 29 cm The Sun shines because atoms of hydrogen fuse to make helium. Each helium atom has a slightly smaller mass than the hydrogen atoms that made it, and this difference is released as energy. This is nuclear fusion.




Dance Oil on canvas 140 x 88 cm These are the steps that make sunshine. The action travels upwards from the bottom of the page fusing hydrogen together to make helium and light. The green triangles are protons and the orange ones are neutrons. The dotted pink lines are neutrinos, the little blue dots are positrons and the magenta waves are light.



Map Oil on fine linen 15 x 21 cm The temperature at the core of the Sun is 15 million degrees. This decreases to a minimum of 4,500 degrees just above the Sun’s surface, and then increases again to about 2 million degrees.




Lounge Oil on fine linen 15 x 21 cm The Sun produces a similar amount of power per unit of volume as a compost heap or a pile of reptiles. Its power is due to its immense size.




109 Oil on fine linen 21 x 29 cm The Sun is 109 earth diameters wide. 1.3 million earths would fit inside. Its mass is the same as 330,000 earths.




Pie Oil on fine linen 21 x 29 cm Three quarters of the Sun is made of hydrogen, the simplest, lightest and most abundant element in the Universe; around one quarter is made of helium, the next simplest element. A small fraction (just under 2%) is made of heavier elements which were manufactured when previous stars exploded.




Always Oil on fine linen 21 X 15 cm The Sun produces particles called neutrinos which travel mostly undisturbed through matter and so reach you even in the middle of the night.



Neighbours Oil on canvas 73 x 75 cm Our Sun is one of two hundred thousand million in the Milky Way. Here the Sun is in the centre, followed by the 99 closest stars, showing their relative sizes and distances from us. Very large stars have an extra ring to indicate they have a diameter ten times that shown. Surface temperature is shown by colour. Our Sun is among the 15% of the brightest stars.



Cycle Oil on fine linen 15 x 21 cm The Sun has a 22 year cycle of activity, reaching a peak in activity every 11 years when the magnetic poles flip and there are more sunspots. We have observed this cycle for nearly 3,000 years.



Seasons Oil on fine linen 15 x 21 cm The Earth spins about its axis which is tilted relative to its orbit around the Sun. The northern hemisphere leans towards the Sun for half the year, bringing Summer to that region, and away from the Sun for the other half, giving Winter.



Song Oil on fine linen 15 x 21 cm The Sun sings more than 10 million notes at any moment. Some of these pressure waves bounce around the edges and some travel across the centre. Each fits into the geometry of the Sun.



Everything Oil on fine linen 21 x 29 cm Every creature, every fruit, every breath, every thought, every spark owes itself to the Sun.



Life Oil on fine linen 29 x 21 cm The Sun is over 4.5 billion years old. It is in the middle of its life as we know it. At around 11 billion years, the hydrogen will be used up and it will briefly and dramatically expand to 200 times its current diameter and 2,000 times its brightness, probably destroying the closest planets in the solar system including Earth. Finally it will shrink to the size of the Earth and radiate heat gently for many hundreds of billions of years.




Various Dances - Light on the tiniest scales These patterns are calculated using quantum mechanics and show how pairs of tiny spinning particles of matter or light are part of a larger dance. Each particle can be spinning clockwise or anticlockwise and we measure these spins in one of three orientations. The patterns show the results of these measurements. Although we can calculate these dances we cannot divine the origins of the choreography.


Mexico Oil on fine linen 108 x 170 cm


Seaside Oil on fine linen 76 x 160 cm


Summer Oil on fine linen 123 x 150 cm 37


First Light - The predominant light in the Universe Over 95% of light energy was released when the Universe was young, just 400,000 years old. This light, which today reaches us as microwaves, bathes all space and tells us so much about our world. In this silent film, we use coloured pencil drawings to tell the story of the First Light and the Universe.


First Light Video, 6:15 minutes




Rockets - Our adventure of discovery By discovering the world through science we let in the light. To let in a little more, we like to explore the edges where the light is lost to the vast blackness beyond. Our ideas about what may lie in the dark hold us so fascinated and dedicated that we explore ceaselessly. It is a timeless effort that cares little for geography, favouring the journeying of the mind into the far reaches of the universe, the heart of the atom, and light itself, with curiosity the fuel. In all our experiments Nature holds the upper hand, But we are clever and find ways to illuminate the darkness. Always the image we find is beautiful, far beyond our early imaginings and brings new dimensions of beauty to our understanding, which gilds the richness of our experience.




Oil on canvas wall hangings, 135 x 85 cm each

Rockets 1,2 & 3


What is light? The world of light is greater than the eye perceives. After dark we remain immersed in the chatter of radio waves, the screech of cosmic gamma and xrays and the gentle heat from the person beside us, or the fire. All of these are light. Light is a traveller, yet needs no medium to carry it. In a vacuum it is the fastest moving thing in the universe, travelling an equivalent distance of almost 8 times around earth every second. Light is the messenger of our world. In it we detect the blaze of summer, the mood of a friend, situations in distant nations and our place within the Universe. It brings messages from every corner of the world, revealing how things used to be, so it is also a time machine. The glow of the earliest light brings us images of the universe in its infancy. We think of light as an oscillation, a continual exchange between electricity and magnetism. Always its origins are in the changing motion of charged matter. We know it arrives in droplets, and that when it is registered by your eye, or some other device, it disappears, returning its energy to matter. Light and matter speak ceaselessly. Each atom and molecule has only certain notes, so light is a musician, ringing bells and sounding pipes. This is what brings colour to the world. On a spring day light’s mastery when playing water, leaves and flowers can fill our hearts with joy.


Poems about Light This is an exhibition in four parts: it shares what we know about the Sun; writes large the hidden patterns found in light and matter at the tiniest scales; tells the story of the predominant light in the Universe; explores and celebrates the adventure of discovery. Every painting in this exhibition stands alone as an artwork and tells us about Nature.

The works were made by Geraldine Cox, artist in residence at Imperial College Department of Physics, with the support of physicists in the department. The exhibition is part of ‘Finding Patterns’, a search for new ways to communicate our knowledge to more minds. The project is a unique experiment that explores the expressive power of art to share so much of Nature that is hidden from the view of everyday life. In this way “the analogies, insights, and harmonies of scientific discovery can find their way into the wider life of man”*.

*J. Robert Oppenheimer. Geraldine Cox Geraldine Cox is an award winning artist who originally trained in physics before studying painting. Since 2011 she has been working at the Imperial College Department of Physics. She is recipient of multiple awards that include two Arts Council Awards and the Leverhulme Trust Artist in Residence Award. In 2013 the Imagine Science Film Festival 48

selected two of her short films, ‘Writing’ and ‘Resonance’ for screening in New York. Other recent exhibitions include ‘Beyond Ourselves’ at the Royal Society, and at the MK Fringe National Painting Prize where Geraldine was a finalist selected by the painter Phoebe Unwin and Turner prize judge, the late Michael Stanley. Geraldine works in varied media: drawing, painting, writing and film through to large scale installations such as giant billboards and a Sun powered pop up cinema. She also gives illustrated talks that share the experience of discovery and some of the beautiful things we know through art.

Acknowledgements Paintings, drawings, film, designs, texts and new scientific conventions: Geraldine Cox. Scientific guidance, support and inspiration: Jonathan Halliwell; Joanna Haigh; Alan Heavens; Henrik Jenssen; Andrew Jaffe; Subu Mohanty; Terry Rudolph; Mike Tarbutt and Yvonne Unruh. Thank you to the staff and students of the Physics Department for their support and enthusiasm. Thanks also to Richard Dickins and the team at the Blyth Centre.


Copyright Š 2014, Geraldine Cox. All rights reserved.

Poems about Light  
Poems about Light