The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

UI students transcend space-time with physics-themed art

Alyssa Shih
A sculpture of a manikin raises a marker to the ceiling while holding a sculpture of a baby at the Link Art Gallery on Wednesday as a part of the “Canvassing The Universe” exhibition.

Champaign-Urbana art lovers and physics enthusiasts alike gathered at the Link Art Gallery Monday evening to explore physics-themed projects created by students from academic backgrounds across the observable universe enrolled in PHYS 495/ART 499

The exhibition featured comics, sculptures, paintings and various other mediums covering topics from particle annihilation to black holes.

Noreen Ahmed, junior in FAA, tackled the cosmic web as her topic, hanging multicolored strings from the ceiling and tying them together to symbolize galaxies across the universe.

“The whole point of the project is to see how truly connected people are,” Ahmed said.

Another addition to Ahmed’s piece was an interactive cork board where people could pin their names up and connect it to the names of people they know with a piece of red string. 

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“I was also thinking of the red string of fate,” Ahmed explained. “People are so connected without realizing.” 

Another piece came from Saul Gonzalez, junior in Engineering, and covered the links between the increase in entropy in the universe and the transience of life itself. 

The piece, “Ephemera: Reflections of an Entropic Self,” featured sliding mirrors pinned onto a wall and a chair viewers could sit in to view their reflection shifting with the mirrors. Behind the chair was a series of childhood photographs taken by Gonzalez, a photographer in his free time.

“Things fade away with time,” Gonzalez said. “The idea of entropy is kind of with that. When you look at yourself you understand what you’re seeing, but as entropy increases, which is inevitable, the mirrors shift, creating a distortion.” 

Other pieces included an oil painting entitled “Measuring Souls,” an immersive room made of bedsheets titled “A Multiversal Death,” a series of pieces imagining different types of stars as dragons and a myriad of other installations. 

The course, titled “Where Art Meets Physics” is an interdisciplinary seminar and laboratory experience that emphasizes collaboration and diversity in connecting physics and art. It is led by Patrick Earl Hammie, professor in FAA, Jessica Raley, Outreach Coordinator for the Illinois Center for Advanced Studies of the Universe, and Nicolas Yunes, professor in Engineering.

“It was really important for us to create an open, interdisciplinary space,” Hammie explained. “We’re establishing mutual threads of respect and listening, being very open to the diverse text that people bring to the class.” 

Monday’s exhibition was the first showcase for the course, imagined by Yunes and Hammie and Jessica Raley, which was brought to life for the first time in Fall 2023. The course was open to students of all disciplines, not only art and physics majors.

Students taking the course were encouraged to take risks with their art and pull from pop culture, textbooks, their own lives and other inspiration to highlight the interconnectedness between the variety of disciplines encapsulated in the exhibition. 

“When Einstein makes a leap creatively, it’s something that he can’t yet prove in math, that’s art,” Hammie said. “That was important to make legible on the first day: to make a space where we’re all asking questions and not making too many assumptions.” 

The event garnered attention from students, professors and residents from all sectors of the galaxy, including physics and art professors and students, and featured art from undergraduates, postdoctoral students and graduate students. 

“I hope if there’s something that students take away it’s that, with encouragement, precarious ventures can lead to something great,” Hammie said. “Even if that’s just a friend who studies a different discipline than you that you get to know on a deeper level.” 

The exhibition will be up until Dec. 7 in the Link Art Gallery at the School of Art & Design for those who have not yet seen the installations. PHYS 495/ART 499 is expected to run next fall for students of all academic backgrounds interested in canvassing the Universe.


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