The molecule as artist

quantumsala_6Flinders University researchers are about to put a series of colourful and spectacular images on show, but you’ll have to search long and hard to find the artist’s signature.

The images were generated as part of research by the Laser Spectroscopy and Molecular Dynamics Laboratory in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences.

Researchers Professor Warren Lawrance, Dr Jason Gascooke and Dr Ula Alexander, under the name of Quantum Collective, will exhibit work as part of the South Australian Living Artists (SALA) exhibitions that run throughout August.

Researcher Dr Ula Alexander said the images can be considered as portraits – or even self-portraits – of single molecules.

The research employs lasers and possibly the world’s largest “weak-light” apparatus.

Gas molecules are isolated and then bombarded with light rays, and then patterns of light emitted by the molecules are captured and analysed to yield information about molecular shape, structure and composition.

“We’ve called the images Quantum Conversations because it’s a matter of probing the molecules with light – asking them ‘questions’ – and the recording the light that comes back – listening to the ‘answer’. Analysing this ‘conversation’ allows us to learn how the molecules tumble and vibrate,” Dr Alexander said.

The scientists anticipate that other conversations will follow.

“We expect the exhibition to spark discussions about the science itself and whether this really is art.”

The brightly coloured images are built up from thousands of patterns that are recorded as the dispersed light, in the form of photons, hits a detector.

“We stack them all up to generate a 2-D image, or a map, of energy,” Dr Alexander said.

The laser laboratory is part of a spectrum of fundamental research that uses various forms of spectroscopy to ‘fingerprint’ molecules.

Dr Alexander said the work has implications for a wide range of scientific and medical research.

The Quantum Collective’s images will be on display in The Artisan Café in Blackwood from July 29 to September 2.

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