Creating The World Machine – Science Meets Art

I’m Myles, a 3rd year Castle student on a 4-year Physics course. I have been passionate about Physics from a young age and was compelled to study at Durham by it’s world-class reputation for teaching Physics, coupled with the University’s beautiful town and surroundings. As a keen trombonist and frisbee player, I was also drawn here by Durham’s wide range of music and sports societies.

During my 2nd year I applied to several work placements for the summer but was unsuccessful. When I instead offered to do some voluntary work in the Physics department, my academic advisor offered me the chance to join the team working on ‘The World Machine’, the display to be used on Durham Cathedral at the 2015 Lumiere Festival.

As a member of University College I was lucky enough to live in Durham Castle in my 1st year, and as such I was living on Palace Green when Lumiere last came to Durham in 2013. I was amazed at the scale of the festival, both in the size of the crowds and in the work that had been put into the displays. Such a unique atmosphere provides an ideal opportunity to inspire the general public.

Inspiring the general public to learn more about Physics is very important to me and this has been the main reason for my involvement. Durham’s Institute of Computational Cosmology is world-renowned, and getting to work with and chat to several of its members would prove very inspiring for my own aspirations of going into research.

The aim of ‘The World Machine’ is to take the audience on a journey through the Universe’s birth and evolution using the Physics department’s own simulations. It also looks at the history of our understanding of this evolution and the lengths to which people have gone over past centuries to answer a simple question: “Why are we here?” Such a grand display is only fitting for a building as stunning as the Cathedral.

I worked on this project for the five weeks before term started. My participation involved regular meetings with the rest of the team, where we would provide feedback on each other’s work. Each person worked on a different segment of the display, making this a team effort.

This was the first time I had been in the University outside of term-time. As an undergraduate it was interesting to meet some of my lecturers from 1st and 2nd year and to learn about the research-oriented part of their jobs.

My contribution to the project is a fly-through past the planets and moons of our Solar System, which I created by scripting a video. Compared to the scale of the Big Bang the solar system may seem insignificant, and yet our exploration of it has arguably inspired more people than any other area of Science. Through the incredible images of Pluto by New Horizons, and the recent discovery that liquid water presently exists on Mars, the Solar System is still inspiring people to this day!

‘The World Machine’ brings together the seemingly unrelated disciplines of Art and Science to spectacular effect. In doing so I hope it will change the perceptions shared by many that physicists are boring men working on pointless research. With the help of the grandeur of the Cathedral I hope the display will inspire hundreds, if not thousands of other people, just as I have been inspired, to learn a little more about Physics.

You can find out more about The World Machine here.


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