Hexagons are the Closest Thing Science Gets to Magic
Acrylic and holographic paper on illustration board
Two panels, 20" by 20"
Hexagons are everywhere. Turtle shells, pencils, footballs, snowflakes, dragonfly eyes, and even the giant storm over Saturn’s north pole is hexagonal! Why are hexagons such a popular shape, both in nature and our everyday lives?
There are a couple of reasons to love hexagons.
First, they are one of only three regular polygons that can cover an entire surface without leaving empty space. Even densely packed circles can only cover 90% of a surface, whereas hexagons, squares, and triangles cover 100%.
Second, they are incredibly mechanically stable. The defining angle of a hexagon is 120 degrees, which is an effective angle for balancing forces in groups of three or more things.
Third, is that hexagons are incredibly efficient shapes. Not only do they pack well, but they are the most effective shape to cover a given area with a limited amount of material. The ratio of surface area to the perimeter in hexagons is much more efficient than other shapes.
In science, we take advantage of these key features of hexagons that nature has been pointing out to us for millennia. Modern-day detectors, like the Gammasphere at Argonne National Laboratories or NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, illustrated above, both use hexagons as a primary component for their design.
Atoms are mostly empty space.
Protons, neutrons and electrons are the three basic ingredients that make up all the atoms in the universe. But did you know that atoms are almost 99% made up of empty space?
There is so much empty space making up atoms that if you took all of the atoms that make up all of the people on planet earth and took out all of the empty space between all of the particles, the over 7 billion people could fit in the space taken up by one sugar cube.
That’s right. The entire population of our planet – from the remote research outpost in Antarctica to the northernmost cities of Alaska - could fit into the palm of your hand!
7 Billion People Equal to About a Sugar Cube
Acrylic and Holographic Paper on Canvas
48" x 46"
Roy. G. Biv is the name we all learned back in grade school to memorize all of the colors in the rainbow. But is that all of the colors? Red, orange, yellow. Green. Blue, indigo, violet. There’s something missing in this list. Where is the color pink?
Depending on your perspective, you might say pink is a watered-down version of red. Others might say that it is a mix of red and white. On the color wheel, pink is nestled nicely between red and violet.
From a more scientific perspective, you could look at the wavelengths of pink light. The visible color spectrum follows the same pattern as the rainbow: Roy. G. Biv. But the light spectrum doesn’t just start with red and end with violet. In fact, the visible spectrum of light is only a tiny sliver of the entire spectrum of light! Red, down on the low energy side, has a wavelength of around 700nm. Lower energy waves of light include infrared, microwave, and radio waves. On the high end, we have blue and violet, clocking in at around 400 nm. If you follow the wavelengths this way, you run into ultraviolet, x rays, and gamma rays.
So where is pink, in all of this? Surely there is pink light – we see it every day when the sun goes down! The truth is, pink doesn’t have a wavelength. What we perceive as pink light is actually a mix of colors on the opposite end of the color spectrum – red and violet. It is a color that is literally “made-up”!
You Are Here
Projected animation on wall with illustration board
10' by 14'
Everything in the universe is governed by a set of relatively simple laws. On a large scale, there is gravity and electromagnetism. On a small scale, there are the strong and weak nuclear forces. The big problem is, we’re not really sure how these fundamental forces match up in the grand scheme of things.
Scientists have been searching for this answer for over a hundred years. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could come up with one single, beautiful equation that described all the laws of the known universe?
One answer to this question has been proposed in the form of string theory. Essentially, imagine all fundamental particles in the universe are not actually three-dimensional objects in space, but extra-dimensional “strings” vibrating at just the right frequency to appear as particles and interact with one another.
Unfortunately for string theory, once you start involving mathematics in higher dimensions, there turns out to be a lot of completely valid versions of this one, supposedly unifying theory that describes the laws of the universe.
It is estimated that there are 10500 versions of string theory, which could all correlate to parallel universes with slightly different laws of physics. To put that number into perspective, there are only about 1024 stars in the entire universe.
And since we don’t know the full story on how our universe works, it might very well be impossible to determine which, if any, of these models are correct!
We keep searching on, trying to find where we fit in the middle of the grand scheme of everything.
Not to Scale
Paper, pins, holographic stickers on floor
Instillation, size varies.
In terms of the scale of the universe, atoms are really, really small.
There are three components that make up all atoms in the universe. Protons, neutrons, and electrons.
Protons and neutrons live in the middle of the atom, the nucleus. They are roughly the same size and mass. The electron, on the other hand, is much, much smaller. The thing of greatest size in an atom is actually the empty space that separates the nucleus from the electron.
To put it into perspective, let’s take a look at a hydrogen atom. Hydrogen is the simplest, but also the most abundant atom in the whole universe. It is composed of just one proton and one electron.
If you were to make the nucleus of the hydrogen atom about the size of a small beach ball – say 2 ft wide – the electron would orbit the middle somewhere in the range of 2 and a half miles away!
Light is fast. Like, really, really fast. So fast, that if you were able to travel at the speed of light, you could go around the circumference of the globe seven and a half times every second.
Light is so fast, you might often hear that the speed of light is the speed limit of the universe. But did you know that the speed of light isn’t actually constant?
When we calculate the fastest known velocity of light, we calculate it as if light were traveling through a perfect vacuum. Light, like all other things, slows down when it has to travel through a medium. The denser the medium, the more stuff is in the way, and the slower the speed of light. Just like if you were walking through a crowd of people, you wouldn’t be able to walk full speed. You might not even be able to go in a straight line!
Take the sun, for example. The Sun is about 150 times denser than water. It’s full of a lot of really tightly packed, really hot hydrogen atoms. When two hydrogen atoms get pushed together with so much force, they form a helium atom, and spit out photons! A lot of these fusion reactions are happening at once, which is why the sun is so bright and hot. And yet, because it is so densely packed, so full of stuff, it can take a single photon of light as long as 100,000 years to reach the surface of the sun.
Then, when that photon reaches the almost entirely empty vacuum of space, it takes only about 8 minutes for the sun’s light to travel almost 93 million miles to the surface of the Earth!
7.5 Times per Second
36" x 57"
The Bohr Model of the Atom is Just That
Laser etched anodized aluminium plates on plexiglass
30" by 30"
Atoms are everywhere. In particular, the Bohr model of the atom – that thing with rings and dots that decorates t-shirts and mugs and pretty much anything science-themed in pop culture – is everywhere! But did you know that the Bohr model of the atom isn’t actually how atoms work? We’ve known that the Bohr model is wrong, or at least incomplete, since basically before Bohr won the noble prize for the model in 1922. It worked really well for atoms with only one electron, but not great for more complex atoms. So why do we still teach it?
Models in science generally come with a little bit of controversy. The universe, despite being governed by just a few laws of physics, is incredibly complicated. This makes it difficult to describe in bite-sized chunks – especially in a classroom setting. In reality, most people don’t need to know about electron clouds and the uncertainty principle, but it is useful for most people to learn about the concept of protons, neutrons, electrons, and the basics of atoms. The Bohr model has all of those things in a tidy package that is easy to understand and easy to teach! Models in science are just a way to simplify the real-life phenomena that we study in science. They might not describe exactly what is going on, but they are really useful for getting a general understanding, or a foundation, which can be built on later with specialized study.
The universe is a pretty big place. Between Earth and the edge of the observable universe is a distance of 46 billion light years. Incomprehensibly large. And still, despite being made up of well, everything, it's mainly made up of...empty space.
One of the most perplexing questions pertaining to the vastness of space that we often ask ourselves is, "Are we alone out here?"
Surely, with all the stars in the universe, even if only a small fraction of them had planets and only a small fraction of those planets could sustain life, we can't be the only ones alive in the universe.
This conundrum is known as the Fermi Paradox.
Unfortunately, the Universe is Mostly Empty
Holographic Sticker on Plexiglass
20" x 30"
Holographic Sticker on Plexiglass
20" x 30"