The Australian Synchrotron is a facility of immense theoretical and technical complexity, which requires scientists and engineers from a wide range of ultra-specialized areas to work together in pursuit of a common yet multifaceted goal. It would be impossible for any one individual to fully understand all the workings and details of such an enterprise. To understand the current states and uses of synchrotrons would require years of study in disciplines ranging from pure and applied mathematics to particle and optical physics, inorganic chemistry to cellular biology, computer science, mechanical and electrical engineering, and so on - even the specialized notations and languages alone would take years to learn, let alone master. How then, is it possible to communicate such concepts across the different scientific disciplines, let alone to the layperson?

One way to gain insight into such a complex meeting-point of scientific disciplines is through the observation and communication with the people that have created and developed the synchrotron. Through discussions with different individuals, an evolving picture can be developed that shows not only the synchrotron itself, but also the theories and ideas behind the technologies being used, and how the different disciplines and people offer different interpretations of both the processes and results. When paired with an historical survey of the theories and technologies, and the people that have developed the theories and practices being used, and their ideas, philosophies, and passions, the human face of synchrotron science is revealed. By looking at the philosophies behind the theories behind the technology also reveals the nature of scientific development itself. Such an epistemological view can show aspects of the ideas and processes that are rarely addressed in empirical terms or texts, namely, the aspects of science that aren’t strictly logical or scientific, and thus reveals the intuitive or ‘artistic’ elements of science in general, and the synchrotron in particular.

Through the use of digital technologies, many of the processes in contemporary media art share many properties with those of scientific research - in particular, many methods used to visualize data are common across both disciplines. Thus data from the synchrotron can be ‘aesthetically analyzed’ to produce artworks that use fundamental forms of synchrotron technologies and ideas in their composition. Conversely, using scientific tools such as fourier analysis for the production of art ‘embeds’ the processes of science within the artworks, and although the results are very different, the shared elements and methods point to a fundamental form of visualization common to both disciplines.

Historically, such ideas of ‘trans-disciplinary visualization’ have been explored by both artists such as Marcel Duchamp, and by scientists. One figure in 20th century physics stands out in this area, the “father of the atom”, Niels Bohr. During his quest to unify the theories of Quantum mechanics in the 1920s, Bohr came to the conclusion of the primacy of visual thought in both science and art. Bohr was also inspired by art movements such as cubism and surrealism, which arguably aided the development of his theory of complementarity - as discussed in previous posts, a subatomic entity (and a work of art!) can appear to be different things depending on how you look at it.

Through the creation of art that is inspired by science new ways of communication are developed. Such methods can transcend the languages of the specialist and allow communication across different fields, but also give scientists a glimpse of how non-scientists see their work. Perhaps more importantly, ’synchrotron art’ can also give the layperson a ‘feel’ of the ideas, technologies and processes involved at such facilities as the Australian Synchrotron, and allow an insight into a very different world to that of the everyday.