Dark Energy

Maarten Vanden Eynde
Gravitational Bending, 2010

Maarten Vanden Eynde gravitational bending

Even weirder than dark matter—the invisible stuff constituting most of the mass of the universe—is dark energy, a mysterious force pushing the universe apart at an ever-faster rate. Dark energy has been around for most of the history of the cosmos. “Nine billion years ago, dark energy was already wielding its repulsive influence on the universe,” explains Johns Hopkins University astrophysicist Adam Riess. But the repulsion didn’t exceed the force of gravity until 5 billion years ago, when cosmic expansion kicked into high gear and began accelerating.

A pioneering space mission called the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) delivered the first accurate account of the overall makeup of the universe. The answer is decidedly strange. Dark energy makes up 73 percent of the universe, dark matter another 23 percent. Atomic matter—everything around us and everything astronomers have ever seen—accounts for just 4  percent.

dark energy

Comparing images from the Hubble Space Telescope’s high-end cameras with the WMAP heat signature map of the early universe, Riess and his colleagues retraced the growth history of the universe with unprecedented accuracy and depth. “It’s as if you mark the height of a child against a doorframe to measure growth spurts,” Riess says. For reasons as yet unknown, the antigravitational effects of dark energy are greater now than they were in the distant past. One theory, supported by the Hubble data, is that empty space is impregnated with residual energy from the Big Bang. As space expands, so does dark energy, while matter is spread out, weakening the inward pull of gravity.

Based on a text by Alex Stone

Chu Yun
Constellation, 2006

Chu Yun

Galaxy made out of LED lights from various devices.

Turning The World Inside Out

Anish Kapoor
Marsupial, 2006

anish kapoor

Anish Kapoor is renowned for his enigmatic sculptural forms that permeate physical and psychological space. Most often, the intention is to engage the viewer, producing awe through their size and simple beauty, evoking mystery through the works’ dark cavities, tactility through their inviting surfaces, and fascination through their reflective facades. Throughout, he has explored what he sees as deep-rooted metaphysical polarities: presence and absence, being and non-being, place and non-place and the solid and the intangible. His most recent works are mirror-like, reflecting or distorting the viewer and surroundings.

Iris, 1998

anish kapoor

Turning the World Inside Out II, 1995

anish kapoor

Dark Matter MACHO

gravitational lensing

In general relativity, the presence of matter (energy density) can curve spacetime, and the path of a light ray will be deflected as a result. This process is called gravitational lensing and in many cases can be described in analogy to the deflection of light by (e.g. glass) lenses in optics. Lensing measures all the mass, in particular the dark matter as well as the luminous matter.

There are ongoing searches to use lensing to find a type of dark matter called MACHOs (massive compact halo objects). Although MACHOs, as dark matter, cannot be seen themselves, if they pass in front of a source (e.g. a star nearby), they can cause the star to become brighter for a while, e.g. days or weeks. This effect has been observed but determinations of the dark matter are not yet conclusive.

Based on a text by Joanne Cohn.

dark halo

Artist's impression showing the approximate extent of the dark matter halo 
around a large spiral galaxy such as our own (Credit: Jose Wudka)

dark matter

3D map of the universe's dark matter (Credit: NASA, ESA and R. Massey)

gravitational lensing

Gravitational lensing caused by dark matter (Credit: NASA)

Dennis Feddersen
Dark Matter #02, 2009

dennis feddersen dark matter

The works of Dennis Feddersen truly occupy space. He experiments with different types of materials. Flexibility is one of the most important criteria for his choice of materials, thus emphasizing the possibilities that may arise during the creative process. He constantly adjusts his flexible sculptures in a series of trials: i.e. he reacts to the surrounding architecture and adapts his sculptures accordingly.

Check this illuminating video about dark matter and gravitational lensing.


Dead Matter

dead stars

Image: Artist’s impression of a neutron star with a powerful magnetic field,
called a Magnetar (Credit: NASA)

Neutron stars are the cold, dense remnants of massive stars that died in fiery supernova explosions. They tend to have masses similar to the sun, but in diameter they would barely stretch 60km. This extreme density makes neutron stars exceptionally good nets for dark matter. For their size and their temperature, they have the best efficiency in capturing WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles). Particles up to 100 times smaller than the ones underground experiments are sensitive to could still make a noticeable difference to neutron stars. Hunting for cold stellar corpses near the center of the galaxy or in star clusters could put new limits on the properties of dark matter.

Dark matter and ordinary matter are thought to clump up in some of the same places, like the center of the galaxy or globular clusters of stars. The center of the galaxy is dusty and difficult to observe, and most globular clusters are so far away that a cold, tiny neutron star hiding inside them would be beyond today’s telescopes. The next generation of ultraviolet telescopes could be up to the task.

Astronomer Bob Rutledge of McGill University suggests an alternative approach: Rather than squinting for neutron stars’ dim light, astronomers could find them through ripples in space-time called gravitational waves. When two neutron stars merge, they are expected to throw off massive amounts of these waves, and Earth-based detectors like LIGO are already in place to catch them — although no waves have actually shown up yet.

Based on a text by Lisa Grossman

Katie Paterson
All The Dead Stars, 2009

katie paterson dead stars

A map documenting the locations of just under 27,000 dead stars – all that have been recorded and observed by humankind.

katie paterson dead stars

Katie Paterson’s artistic practice is multi-disciplinary, cross-medium, and conceptually driven, often exploring landscape by means of technology, and connectivity by way of moonlight, melting glaciers, and dead stars.

History of Darkness, 2010

katie paterson history of darkness

History of Darkness is a slide archive; a life-long project, it will eventually contain hundreds upon thousands of images of darkness from different times/places in the history of the Universe, spanning billions of years. Each image handwritten with its distance from earth in light years, and arranged from one to infinity.

katie paterson history of darkness

The Death Star below is a fictional moon-sized space station and superweapon appearing in the Star Wars movies and Expanded Universe.

death star

Dark Matters

Dark matter is one of astrophysics’ greatest enigmas. It is thought to be five times more common than visible matter, but there is no proof of what it is made of. Until now, the best evidence for dark matter was that orbital speeds of stars in a galaxy do not fall off with increasing distance from the galaxy’s center, as would seem to be necessary to keep the stars from flying off into space. The fact that the galaxies hold together suggests that unseen mass provides the gravity to hold them together. Some researchers have sought to explain the steady orbital speed with alternative theories of gravity, but it is unlikely that anything other than dark matter can explain the new observations.

Most cosmologists are convinced that the answer lies in physics theory, which predicts the existence of fundamental particles that have not yet been discovered. They are called Weakly Interacting Massive Particles, or WIMPs.

dark matter

Dark matter (blue) passed through nearly unaffected after the head-on galactic
collision of 2006, while visible matter (red) slowed down and spread out. High-
energy electrons captured over Antarctica could reveal the presence of a nearby
but mysterious astrophysical object that's bombarding Earth with cosmic rays,
researchers say. Or the electrons may be the long-awaited physical evidence of
elusive dark matter. Either way, the unusual particles are exciting for astro-
physicists, who say they could someday confirm or deny decades of unproven
theories. (Credit: NASA)

A few exotic particles have been suggested as dark matter ingredients; the Kaluza-Klein particle, the Axion and the Neutralino. The most wanted particle however that might account for the missing matter is the Higgs boson particle, also known as the ‘God-particle’. The existence of the particle is postulated as a means of resolving inconsistencies in current theoretical physics, and attempts are being made to confirm the existence of the particle by experimentation, using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN and the Tevatron at Fermilab.

The Higgs boson is the only Standard Model particle that has not been observed and is thought to be the mediator of mass. Experimental detection of the Higgs boson would help explain the origin of mass in the universe.

Both deep underground and high in sky scientists are attampting to capture the misterious dark matter particle.

A technique used by the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS) detector at the Soudan Mine at Minnesota, US, relies on multiple very cold germanium  and silicon  crystals. The crystals (each about the size of a hockey puck) are cooled to about 50 millikelvins. A layer of metal (aluminium and tungsten) at the surfaces is used to detect a WIMP passing through the crystal.

dark matter detector

One of the hocky-puck-size detectors used in the CDMS experiment.

DRIFT I was built by UK and US scientists to search for dark matter. DRIFT I ran between 2001 and 2004, 1.1 kilometres underground in Yorkshire’s Boulby Mine. It did not detect dark-matter particles, but its powerful successors continue the search.

drift 1 dark matter search

In SNOLAB, a Canadian underground physics laboratory at a depth of 2 km in Sudbury, Ontario, scientists are conducting two experimental programs, LEAP-1 and PICASSO, in order to find the missing WIMPs.

dark matter detector

At the Kamioka Observatory, Institute for Cosmic Ray Research a neutrino physics laboratory located underground in the Mozumi Mine of Hida in Gifu Prefecture, Japan, several studies are being carried out to find a WIMP. The particle detector is a cylindrical tank  which contains 3,000 tons of pure water and has about 1,000 50 cm  diameter photomultiplier tubes (PMTs) attached to the inner surface.

Andreas Gursky
Kamiokande, 2007

andreas gursky kamiokande

In 2016 the deepest research station DUSEL will become operational. The Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory, or DUSEL  is a major project under consideration by the National Science Foundation. DUSEL will be a series of large laboratories, caverns, and cleanrooms  serving the field of underground science. The main impetus for DUSEL is the study of extremely rare nuclear physics processes, like neutrino scattering and dark matter interactions which can only be studied in the absence of cosmic rays.


(photo: DUSEL)

The Advanced Thin Ionization Calorimeter (ATIC) is a balloon-borne instrument flying in the stratosphere  over Antarctica to measure the energy and composition of cosmic rays. ATIC was launched from McMurdo Station for the first time in December 2000 and has since completed three successful flights out of four.

dark mater balloon antarctica

The balloon awaits release  from the launch vehicle / T. Gregory Guzik / Nature. 

In 2008 the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope (GLAST) was launched into space in order to look for signs of new laws of physics and what composes the mysterious dark matter. This mision should complement the data coming from the Payload for Antimatter Matter Exploration and Light-nuclei Astrophysics (PAMELA) which was launched in 2006.

By the end of 2010, despite all the efforts, the mystery of the dark matter in the universe remains unsolved.

Glast launch

(Photo: NASA)

The God Particle

Alexandra Mir
The Dream and the Promise, 2009

Alexandra Mir

‘Infinite space within an infinite nothingness. Undefinable spirit within unlimited thought. Icons and insatiable quests. Human curiosity has a need for a context within which to exist. Religion was science as science is now religion. The justification of our lust and thrust for the infinite, away from our sensory paradise, comparable to the search for the deepest recesses of our minds, are both ways of seeking the answers to creation, purpose and demise. Religion, as a system of control, has come close to its great rival throughout history – the laws of physics that govern our universe. ‘When will miracles cease?’ – The modes of technology that we produce are ingenious to the children of earth but woefully inadequate adaptations of our unlimited imagination. ‘Why are we here?’ – Spiritual answers are equally unsatisfactory compared to the power of such simple questions. The answer may lie in convergence. Technology may have to wait for the power of the human brain to fully develop its (super)natural abilities. Will the technologies that are then produced be miraculous in that they may not require material substance to work but a faith, a belief in laws of physics so subtle than matter itself cannot withstand their logic? Will they be based in technology so discreet that it will be indistinguishable from the very fabric of the universe and all that is created within it? When we look at science and religion, are we looking at the same technology at different levels of evolution? Is humankind always to be polarised and thus paralysed?’ – Mark Baker –

The Large Hedron Collider

god particle

Photo: Maximilien Brice, CERN

If you were to dig a hole 300 feet straight down from the center of the charming French village of Crozet, you’d pop into a setting that calls to mind the subterranean lair of one of those James Bond villains. A garishly lit tunnel ten feet in diameter curves away into the distance, interrupted every few miles by lofty chambers crammed with heavy steel structures, cables, pipes, wires, magnets, tubes, shafts, catwalks, and enigmatic gizmos.

This technological netherworld is one very big scientific instrument, specifically, a particle accelerator-an atomic peashooter more powerful than any ever built. It’s called the Large Hadron Collider, and its purpose is simple but ambitious: to crack the code of the physical world; to figure out what the universe is made of; in other words, to get to the very bottom of things.

There’s one puzzle piece in particular that physicists hope to pick out of the debris from the LHC’s high-energy collisions. Some call it the God particle.

The preferred name for the God particle among physicists is the Higgs boson, or the Higgs particle, or simply the Higgs, in honor of the University of Edinburgh physicist Peter Higgs, who proposed its existence more than 40 years ago. Most physicists believe that there must be a Higgs field that pervades all space; the Higgs particle would be the carrier of the field and would interact with other particles, sort of the way a Jedi knight in Star Wars is the carrier of the “force.” The Higgs is a crucial part of the standard model of particle physics—but no one’s ever found it. – Joel Achenbach –

The Controller of the Universe

Damián Ortega
Controller of the Universe, 2007

damian ortega controller of the universe

Damián Ortega’s Controller of the Universe, a series of found hand tools suspended in mid air, is a site of danger and otherworldliness. As if in mid explosion emanating from a center, it appears as though a force of nature has frozen them in time and space.

Cosmic Things, 2002

damian ortega cosmic thing

The Scale of The Universe

Toril Johannessen
Variable Stars, 2009

Toril Johannessen

Toril Johannessen

At the beginning of the 20th century the estimated size of the universe increased radically.

At that time, an extensive project of photographing and mapping the entire starry sky took place at Harvard College Observatory, Cambridge, MA, where catalogue work and mathematical calculations were carried out by a group of women known as The Harvard Computers.

With the introduction of photography to astronomy, the amount of scientific data processed at Harvard College Observatory became immense. Women were considered as accurate and cheap labor to perform the work, and although they had no status as scientific staff, several of them developed theories founded on the work they did. One of these theories was a method to calculate distances in space based on observations of variable stars; stars that vary in brightness over a period of time. Henrietta Swan Leavitt, who worked on classification of such stars at the observatory, found a correlation between brightness and period of a particular type of variable stars. Building on her discovery, new theories on the scale and expansion of the universe were introduced, and the scale of the universe as we know it increased by billions of light years.

The work Variable Stars takes Harvard College Observatory’s grand archive of photographic plates as its very tangible vantage point. With the task to collect a sequence of stars visible from her location in Norway, the artist travelled to Cambridge and dug into the archive of photographic plates.

The photographs presented in the installation Variable Stars are printed copies of glass plates taken at Harvard College Observatory, originally taken for Northern catalogue work and for the study of variable stars. They show sections of the sky that are in viewing angle from the window after sunset in the gallery room where the installation were firstly exhibited in Oslo Kunstforening, Oslo, Norway, January 17th 2009.

In each photograph one cepheid or RR Lyrae star is located; two types of variable stars that are used for distance measurements. The stars are cut from the photographic copies and then used as seeds for growing crystals of alum, a substance that is used as a component in photographic paper. The installation on view at Oslo Kunstforening contained of 17 photographs and the corresponding crystals, telescopes at the window and a triptych of pencil drawings.

The Scale of The Universe The Past 100 Years, 2009

Toril Johannessen the scale of the univers

We shall never understand it until we find a way to send up a net and fetch the thing down (Henrietta Swan Leavitt)


Negative Space

Mungo Thomson
Negative Space, 2006

Mungo Thomson Negative Space

Full color, 160 pages, 10-1/8″ x 7″ x ½”
Designed by Mungo Thomson with Conny Purtill
Published by Christoph Keller Editions and JRP|Ringier, Zurich

Mungo Thomson Negative Space

Mungo Thomson Negative Space

Thomson’s ongoing Negative Space project tempers profound ambivalence with assurances of earnest conciliation. The works in this series—including Negative Space (2006), an artist book, and Negative Space (STScI-PRC2003-24) (2006) and Negative Space (STScI-PRC2007-41a) (2007), large-scale photographic murals comprise psychedelic images culled from an online archive of copyright-free starscape shots taken by the Hubble Space Telescope that the artist downloaded and reversed. (Thanks to a simple Photoshop operation, the inky chasm of outer space becomes the antiseptic pallor of the empty gallery in another act of reversal.)

The Negative Space murals are, as Thomson quips, “like visual whale songs—atmospherics for the spiritually inclined. Wallpaper for Esalen. California all the way.” This means that they are tainted with hippie-stoner associations, but their admission of delight in and curiosity about the world extends well beyond them. In his Gifford Lectures on Natural Theology, delivered at the University of Glasgow in 1985, Carl Sagan described nothing short of the search for the sacred in the universe, beginning with a very simple formulation: “By far the best way I know to engage the religious sensibility, the sense of awe, is to look up on a clear night. . . . I think everyone in every culture has felt a sense of awe and wonder looking at the sky.”
In this way, Sagan opens onto a series of startling observations about the relative unimportance of man in the center of an ever-vaster cosmos—a smallness that is neither a palliative nor a burden, but an invitation born of never really being very sure where it is that we stand. So Thomson offers a site of promise, which aches with entimentality even as its refusal of consolation admits to the impossibility of any easy belief.

– Based on a text by Suzanne Hudson is a New York–based critic and an assistant professor of modern and contemporary art at the University of Illinois.

Dark Matter (Running Man), 2010
Photo-luminescent ink on museum board, 39-¼” x 52”
Dark Matter (Orion), 2010
Photo-luminescent ink on museum board, 44-¼” x 33-¼”

Mungo Thomson Dark Matter

Mungo Thomson Dark Matter

Dark Matter (NGC-6397), 2010
Photo-luminescent ink on museum board, 35-¾” X 27″

Mungo Thomson Dark Matter

Thomson’s silkscreens invert photographs of starscapes taken by amateur astronomers and turn them into glow-in-the-dark prints whose negative space glows, rather than the stars themselves.

Transgenic Life found in the Smithsonian Institute

center for postnatural history

Arabidopsis thaliana is a small unremarkable plant found growing along roadsides, in fields and wastlands of the northern hemisphere. Its apparent simplicity and relatively quick growing cycle made is a good candidate for researchers studying genetics during the middle part of the 20th century. In the 1970′s Arabidopsis thaliana’s life and habitat changed rapidly. Researchers at Stanford University had developed a technique for using bacteria to insert foreign genes into the genome of Arabidopsis. In doing so, Arabidopsis become the first “transgenic” plant. With the advent of the commercial biotech industry in the 80′s, the familiar plant began taking up residence in climate controlled research labs all over the world. It is now considered one of the “standard model organisms” which scientists use to try and understand life, and engineers use to try to find new uses for life.

A single specimen of Transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana rests in the species’ “United States” collection folder in the botany collection at the Smithsonian. Wedge amidst its wilder relatives, it is an oddity amongst its closest kin, but also within the Museum of Natural History on the whole where it remains possibly the only genetically engineered specimen within the collection.

Source: The Center for PostNatural History

The Center for PostNatural History is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge relating to the complex interplay between culture, nature and biotechnology. The PostNatural  refers to living organisms that have been altered through processes such as selective breeding or  genetic engineering. The mission of the Center for PostNatural History is to acquire, interpret and provide access to a collection of living, preserved and documented organisms of postnatural origin.

Caddisfly Construstions

Felix van de Beek
Little Architects
, 1979 – 1981


Caddisflies, aquatic insects of the order of Trichoptera are known all over the world. They are tiny nocturnal butterflies whose larvae feed on micro-organisms in non-polluted freshwater. In order to protect an extremely vulnerable abdomen, the larvae of a certain group constructs a portable case or tube consisting of mucus, bits of leaves, sand, etc. Mainly working in nightshifts it takes these one-centimeter-long little architects a week to complete their job. In natural surroundings the cases all look alike. This is not surprising as the material on hand differs very little. But what happens if the supply of stock is changed?

Felix van de beek

Felix van de beek

It presented no problem to the grubs. They used everything that was availeable, organic as well as inorganic: ironfilings, wood-chippings, beads, glass-splinters, bits of plastic and so on.

P.S. For the concerned animal lovers in the world: as for the larvae used in the project all flew happily out after the chrysalis stage

Based on a text by Pieter Beek

The Synthetic Kingdom

Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg
A Natural History of the Synthetic Future, 2009

Synthetic Kingdom

The New Tree of Life 

How will we classify what is natural or unnatural when life is built from scratch?  Synthetic Biology is turning to the living kingdoms for its materials library. No more petrochemicals: instead, pick a feature from an existing organism, locate its DNA code and insert it into a biological chassis. From DIY hacked bacteria to entirely artificial, corporate life-forms, engineered life will compute, produce energy, clean up pollution, make self-healing materials, kill pathogens and even do the housework. Manufacturers will transcend biomimicry, engineering bacteria to secrete keratin for sustainable vacuum cleaner casings; synthesise biodegradable gaskets from abalone shell proteins and fill photocopier toner cartridges with photosensitive E. coli.  Meanwhile, we’ll have to add an extra branch to the Tree of Life. The Synthetic Kingdom is part of our new nature.  Biotech promises us control over the natural world, but living machines need controlling. Biology doesn’t respect boundaries or patents. And in simplifying life to its molecular interactions, might we accidentally degrade our sense of self? Are promises of sustainability and unparalleled good health seductive enough to accept such compromise? – Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg

Synthetic Kingdom

POLLUTION-SENSING LUNG TUMOR Terminal pathology from female smoker, 64 years of age. Analysis identified a novel species of silicon fabricator containing DNA from Japanese carbon monoxide detectors (manufacturer’s DNA tag intact). A double disease: her lungs grew carbon monoxide-sensing crystals in response to the presence of pollutants in her lungs.

Interactive Hunting Trophies

France Cadet
Hunting Trophies, 2008

France Cadet Trophy

Cervus Elaphus Barbarus (North Africa Deer)

Hunting Trophies is a collection of 11 hunting trophies hung on the wall. They feature the most frequent species used in taxidermy for the realization of wall trophies, mainly deer and cat family. Instead of being real taxidermied animals they are chests of modified I-Cybie robots.  An infrared sensor allows the robots, each in its own way, to detect the presence but also the movements of visitors. As you approach, the robots turn their heads in your direction, their eyes light up, come too close and the robot suddenly growls. The closer you get, the more aggressive its behaviour.

France Cadet Trophy

France Cadet Trophy

The New World Order

Bob de Graaf
On the Crossing of Species, 2010

bob de graaf




Bob de Graaf made a catalogue of different parts of animals and objects which he found in his surroundings.
‘My collection can be used to create a new order of species. By using the natural lifecycle of animals in everyday objects an evolutionary up-cycle can replace linear production systems. By breeding animal-like objects or object-like animals, we can construct a practical class of species.’

bob de graaf

Vanescrew (Synthia) Slotta, 2010

bob de graaf

Pieron (Artogeia) Napil, 2010

bob de graaf