Crowns, atoms, and antibodies: the work of Julian Voss-Andreae


Voss-Andreae is therefore either brave or foolhardy to try to represent quantum phenomena tangibly. Perhaps his greatest asset as a former physicist is that he realizes how much we don't know. In some of his works, the inverted commas of analogy are explicit to the knowing eye. Quantum Corral (pictured) materializes something that could hardly be less material: the wave-like properties of electrons, first reported in Nature in 1927. Here, they are represented in a block of wood that has been milled to the contours of electron density seen in 1993 around a ring of iron atoms on the surface of copper through a scanning tunnelling microscope. The gilded surface reminds physicists that it is the mobility of surface electrons in the metal that accounts for its reflectivity, and the coloration of gold is itself a relativistic effect of the metal's massive nuclei. For art historians, this gilding invokes the crown-like haloes of medieval altarpieces, but could also allude to the way gold was reserved in Renaissance art for the intangible: the other-worldly light of heaven.

That's Philip Ball describing physicist-artist Julian Voss-Andreae's Quantum Corral for Nature.

Unfortunately the full article is subscriber-only, but you can also read it at Philip Ball's blog, homonculus - with comments from Voss-Andreae.

I love the way Ball draws parallels between Renaissance gilding and gold atoms, moving from our common associations with gold (crowns, haloes) to imply more esoteric examples from various disciplines (Rutherford's gold-foil experiment leaps to my mind - as do the swirling rhythms of the Battersea shield,which is actually bronze). This is the kind of evocative free-association triggered by good writing and good art - both Ball and Voss-Andreae are very good at what they do!

There's an interview with Voss-Andreae in his studio (by Oregon Public Broadcasting) below the fold.

You may recognize the piece he's making - it's Angel of the West, an antibody-inspired (and da Vinci-inspired) sculpture seen a couple of years ago on Boing Boing.

Matter Wave Project V: Exhibition "Quantum Objects" featuring work by Julian Voss-Andreae runs October 2009 - April 2010 in the American Center for Physics, College Park, MD. Flyer here (pdf).

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(You may have seen me mention this over on Ed Yong's blog; if not, it's for my Dad's 60th birthday party in February and covers the history of science within his lifetime. I'm aiming to include one science-related event from each year, and now have something pencilled in for all years except 1997, 1999 and 2000. An email to is one way to nominate your favourite science-related event(s) from these years without taking over Jessica's comment thread, and tweeting a reply to @GoldHoarder is another. Such nominations are appreciated.)

Great post! I enjoyed learning about this artist.

The rest of my comment is completely OT, but I don't have an e-mail for you.

I was wondering if you could help provide content for a 4-page magazine spread on art and science (for a magazine I'm making up for a class project).

My magazine is _Art & Science_ and since that's your beat on ScienceBlogs, I wondered if you would either let me interview you via e-mail or let me quote some of your posts. I can provide the Statement of Intent for the project off-line--it's rather lengthy. I've enjoyed your blog a lot even though I don't visit that frequently. I need to bookmark it on all the computers I use.

I'm a grad student at Humboldt State University doing thesis research in neuroscience and unofficially minoring in art. This semester, I'm in a graphic design class, and our final project is a 4-page spread in our ideal art magazine. We've already turned in a masthead for the cover, which is our penultimate project.


EVERYBODY - feel free to hijack the thread with suggestions for Adrian, I don't mind at all. It's an awesome project.

Kathryn - I love to hear about scientists doing art/design related stuff - I emailed you.

About the history of science thing, just to say that I've posted an update on my blog. In summary, I've now filled in every year except 1997 - any chance of a nomination pertaining to that year?

im only 11 but i really think your artwork is awsome and was wondering if you could take a suggestion from a 11 year old(ME)well first of all im the youngest in my family and we are all artistic and i love art so heres my suggestion i think you should do a giant pearl that has the weird type of reflecting rainbow color.