M.J. Wegener & A.K. Milroy
At the Australian Physics Congress, ANU, Canberra 2014.
Labpunk was formally launched at the AIP Congress, with an exhibition, a poster and gifts for each of the 9 Plenary speakers. The gifts were inspired by the research work of each of these notable physicists and were created using objects, techniques or concepts from the physics lab. The creators, Wegener and Milroy, used metalsmithing and jewellery making techniques to transform physics artefacts into wearable works of art. Each gift was presented at the close of the plenary session, in a wooden box made of salvaged Australian native timbers (by wood sculptor Gary Field) and with a detailed inspiration (please click on images opposite).
1. Professor Lawrence M Krauss – Higgs-saw Mechanism
A recent (2013) paper by Professor Lawrence M Krauss and James Dent describes a “Higgs-Saw Mechanism as Source for Dark Energy”. This paper notes that the concept is “motivated by the see-saw mechanism for neutrinos and is a small GUT scale mixing between the Standard Model Higgs and an otherwise massless hidden sector scalar”. It focuses on particle physics and a quest to “generate a vacuum energy density as minute as that needed to produce the Dark Energy required to drive the current accelerated expansion of the universe”.
2. Professor Lisa Randall – Warped Space-Time Cuff
Lisa Randall’s research in theoretical physics involves particle physics and cosmology, including fundamental forces and extra dimensions of space. She is known for her popular science book; Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions. The cover of this book inspired a cuff-style bangle of sterling silver which is imprinted with a grid pattern.
3. Professor Paul Corkum – Corkum’s Flashbulb
Professor Paul Corkum’s research involves generating extremely short pulses of light, like the old fashioned flashbulbs, which facilitate the photography and observation of molecules and sub-atomic particles during chemical and biological reactions.
It takes 25 attoseconds for an electron to circle an atom (an attosecond is one billionth of one billionth of a second) and hence Corkum’s aim is to build the first 25 attosecond flashbulb. By animating the photographs generated from these flashes he will make “movies” of chemical and biological reactions involving electrons, atoms, molecules and light.
4. Professor Steven Sherwood – Cumulus Clouds Pin
This work celebrates research in atmospheric physics and its effects on climate. “Every cloud has a silver lining” – and these clouds are silver all the way through.
5. Professor Steven Cowley – Dagger Pin
Steven Cowley’s work in plasmas inspired a pin in the ancient British jewellery form of a dagger. It includes a decorative handguard of twisted sterling silver wire, resembling the modelled magnetic field of a rotating tokamak plasma. This shape, as a stylised letter “C”, also refers to his own name, and the recurrence of “C” in the names of institutions he has been involved with during his career (including Culham Centre and Corpus Christi College). The dagger blade has been forged from nickel rod donated by Norman Heckenberg. Heating and acid-cleaning during the making process resulted in bluish iridescence due to oxide layers on the nickel, and rusty-coloured patches on the silver, which have been allowed to remain to accentuate the ancient form.
6. Professor Serge Haroche – Duality tie pin and cufflinks
For Serge Haroche, French physicist and joint Noble prize winner (2012) we wanted to make something that gave an artistic interpretation of his research, and have produced a piece that has the photon as a point of focus, with its dual particle/wave personality.
7. Professor Anke Rita Kayasser-Pyzalla – En-lightened Engineering
Anke Rita Kayasser-Pyzalla has a distinguished career in physics with a strong focus on engineering and materials investigation. This inspired a pair of earrings made with the plique-à-jour enamelling technique.
8. Doctor Lisa Harvey-Smith – Star Necklace
Lisa Harvey-Smith’s astronomical research investigating the birth and death of stars and the origin and nature of cosmic magnetic fields, and her involvement in development of the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope facility, are celebrated in a necklace featuring a star-shaped rare earth magnet. The necklace pendant has a form recalling the curvature of telescopes, and is made of silver and copper, referring to the red-brown colours dominant in the landscape of the location for the Square Kilometre Array.
9. Professor Stephen Chu – Laser Cooling and Trapping pin.
Stephen Chu’s work in laser cooling and trapping (co-winning the Nobel Prize) and in issues related to energy are celebrated in a lapel pin made out of part of an experiment. A piece of titanium, patterned with an array of spots like trapped particles, has been set as a gem in sterling silver. Each spot is caused by the deposit of energy from a laser beam on the titanium. Involving technical staff in its production, this piece acknowledges the contributions of technicians in realising experimental physics. The silver holding this “gem” has a fluid shape, recalling the “optical molasses” of Chu’s work.
Sometimes physics fascinates just because of its aesthetics. It could be the artistic appeal of an experimental image, a beautiful object used in doing physics, a pleasing curve that relates parameters… We see possibilities for art in the artefacts of physics – in bits of lab equipment, experimental results, and theoretical models. A scientist with a passion for art (M.J. Wegener) and an artist with a passion for science (A.K. Milroy)- are collaboratively making original works of art which may be worn as jewellery, or enjoyed as sculpture, by re-purposing physics artefacts..
Please click on the following link for a PDF of the full article, adapted from Australian Physics Volume 51, Number 2, Mar-Apr 2014.
We’re calling this Art in Physics project “Labpunk” referencing the Steampunk movement . We both find items of lab “junk” appealing because of their aesthetics and their stories; we have a shared interest in science and shared experiences as metalsmiths. Figure 1. Like a cabinet of curiosities, or wunderkammer , a gathering of physics objects has led to an alchemical collaboration between science and art. Physics relics are being transformed into LABPUNK: art objects with depth and attitude, souvenirs of the work of physicists.
The project has four main aspirations:
The first is to make physics artefacts into wearable works of art and small sculptural objects. This follows a strong tradition of images of science inspiring art and design, including diagrams of crystal structures being supplied to designers  and the Angstrom Art initiative . By donations, the project has acquired items that were languishing in the lab – broken, scratched or outdated objects, or scrap material (particularly metal) – for example, laser crystal, gold mirror, nickel mesh, lenses, perforated metal sheet from electronics boxes, sapphire resonator, brass fittings, platinum wire and neoprene O-rings. Examples of art objects made with lab junk are shown in Figures 2, 3 and 4. The raw materials, the scientific activity they originate from, and other background details inform the final piece. While there is often an edgy, technical look to wearable design objects with this inspiration, it doesn’t have to be the case, and in many of the Labpunk works, elements of the style and form, as well as techniques of traditional fine jewellery-making are used.
The second aspiration is to record a dialogue between physics and art.
Wearing a bangle based on the structure of Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) (shown in Figure 5 ) has sparked conversations with scientists recognising the form and artist-jewellers asking about it.
Despite the oft-perceived incompatibilities of “objective” science, and “subjective” art, there are many areas of overlap between the disciplines – materials, instruments, a problem-solving approach, experimentation, and creativity. We are examining physics artefacts from a very different perspective to usual. A process of documentation and reflection accompanies this project. This is planned to include a gallery on this website and an art book. We are presenting our work at the 2014 conferences of both the Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand (POPCAANZ) and the Australian Institute of Physics (AIP). This year’s national conference of physicists, being themed “The Art of Physics” is an ideal platform to explore physics art jewellery.
The third aspiration is to make new links and strengthen existing linkages within and beyond the physics community.
Each of the plenary speakers at the 2014 AIP Congress will be given an original, unique and wearable work of art to keep as a memento of the conference. The wider physics community, including scientists and their suppliers, teachers and students, has been invited to be part of this project by donating material such as:
* lab junk
* a sample of an interesting material being worked on
* a visual – for example a graph or experimental image
Raw materials will be transformed into small art objects, and a collection of these pieces will be shown at the 2014 AIP Congress, where conference attendees will be able to wear selected pieces. An exhibition of Labpunk is planned for Brisbane, and the public will be invited to experience the (art) world of Physics. By donating materials, and or interacting with the works of art, people will be linked to the physics and physicists involved. All donors will be acknowledged in the project’s publications.
Existing links between the communities of scientific and creative industries include modern physics technology being utilised in jewellery-making. For example laser cutting gemstones (refer back to Figure 4) and laser welding metals in the making and repair of jewellery. In a recent collaboration, laser welding and patterning of titanium has been explored to extend traditional jewellery making techniques .
The fourth aspiration is to address the finite, through recycling.
Conservation laws are at the very heart of physics. By re-using lab junk, we are acknowledging that the resources available to us are finite. Recycling and re-purposing materials has a long tradition with metalsmiths. Nothing is ever discarded; items are repaired, dismantled to their component parts, refined and re-made into new objects. This strategy fits with a theme in contemporary arts of sophisticated and stylish recycling, which includes clothing  and jewellery, where “urban mining” sees donated jewellery disassembled then reconfigured into contemporary pieces . Exemplifying this practice, in 2012 Wegener and Milroy exhibited work in the peer-reviewed Jewellers and Metalsmiths Group of Queensland “100% Recycled” exhibition .
 L. Jackson, “From Atoms to Patterns: Crystal structure designs from the 1951 Festival of Britain”, Richard Dennis Publications in association with Wellcome Collection (2008)
 M. Wegener, S. Tapner, A. Buddery, M. Dargusch, “Laser Techniques for Titanium Jewellery and Objects”, Ninth conference on Lasers in the Conservation of Artworks (LACONA), London, 7–10 September, 2011
 Tokyo Recycle Project http://masahironakagawa.com/works/trpstatement-en.html
 “Participation + Exchange”, 15th Biennial Jewellers and Metalsmiths Group of Australia Conference, 12-14 July 2014, Brisbane http://www.participationandexchange.com
 “100% Recycled” exhibition http://www.visualartist.info/JMGQ/100-recycled-nbsp
M.J. (Margaret) Wegener is a lecturer in Physics at The University of Queensland. Major themes of her work are the development of technology-enhanced and inquiry based learning activities for physics. Her PhD, centred on making and analysing holograms, was symptomatic of her deep interest in both science and the arts. She has been metalsmithing for 15 years, with training through the Goldsmith’s School, Brisbane and the Jewellers and Metalsmiths’ Group of Australia.
A.K. Milroy is “artist-in-residence” at Green Vale Gallery, Brisbane and has been exhibiting and selling artworks, in multiple media, for the past two decades. Currently she is completing a practice based PhD through Central Queensland University on the topic “Visualisations of Extinction and Evolution in Queensland Flora”. Milroy is working with the Queensland Museum’s Ancient Environments/Geosciences Program to create visualisations of evolution and extinction through palaeobotanical specimens, whilst exploring new technological methods of specimen representation. Milroy also teaches part-time at the Goldsmith’s School, Brisbane.