Art and science are often seen as two conflicting cultures, but sometimes when those worlds collide, inspiration strikes. That’s what happened with artist Roshan Houshmand. Houshmand has transformed her fascination with physics into a series of paintings based on the wispy trails left by subatomic particles as they move through bubble chambers.
Back in 2007, Symmetry magazine published a nice little feature about the Iranian-American artist’s work. Although many family members had science-based careers as engineers or medical professionals, Houshmand earned degrees in fine art. But she always had a love for science. One year, her uncles were visited her in upstate New York, and she took them to hear string theorist Brian Greene give a public lecture. Greene’s talk blew her away, particularly the notion that there might be 11 dimensions to reality. ‘Somehow this statement produced a tremendous feeling of relief in me, and allowed me to redefine my perspectives on life,” she recalled.
The experience inspired her to spend the next five months immersing herself in physics books. Somewhere in that process of self-education, she came across photographs from bubble chambers, taken in the 1960s and 1970s at Brookhaven National Laboratory and at CERN.
Bubble chambers are filled with a superheated liquid, like hydrogen. Yes, hydrogen is normally a gas but if you keep it under pressure it will take the form of a liquid. Then you can release it at the moment particles enter the chamber. This energetic particles make the liquid boil as they pass through the chamber, creating a trail of bubbles in their wake. It’s tough to detect the particles themselves, since they’re gone within nanoseconds, but the bubbles expand on the order of microseconds — enough time for photographs to be taken from multiple angles by a set of cameras, thereby giving scientists a 3D image of the particle’s path.
Houshmand became fascinated by the patterns in these kinds of photographs, the tracks of otherwise invisible subatomic particles traveling through the liquid hydrogen in the chambers, and this inspired to create her series of “Event Paintings,” beginning in 2005. “The images are extremely sophisticated and yet there’s something so pure and primal about the movement of the forms,” she told Symmetry.
Houshmand starts with the raw printouts of the images and picks those that “speak” to her in some way artistically. She uses “cold black” paint as a primer (actually a really dark blue), sketches the outlines of the event with chalk, and then colors in that sketch with paints. The result is some truly dazzling works of art, based on the movement of the tiniest building blocks of nature.