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Communicating Science Residency: Solar Wind-Chime

Video Details

Helen White developed the solar-wind chime whilst in residence at Watershed's Pervasive Media Studio. She was commissioned to research and develop an artwork that communicates a scientific concept. Using electromagnets and aluminium tubing, Helen transforms real-time solar-wind speed data into an other-worldly soundscape.

Duration: 5mins 49secs

We're all familiar with the image of the aurora borealis, or at least we can imagine how this spectacle appears. It is the life-long ambition of many to see these colours dancing across the sky, but only a small percentage of people ever achieve it. The spectacle is only visible near the magnetic poles of the earth, and even there its appearance is dependent on numerous factors.

With this in mind, Helen White chose to create a piece of artwork about the science behind the aurora to allow everyone a chance to experience the phenomenon.

Solar-wind is the magnetic force that reacts with gases in the earth's atmosphere to create these distinctive swathes of colour. Certain satellites record the speed of the solar-wind, and during her residency Helen managed to gain access to a real-time stream of this data. As this data is an aesthetically bereft set of numbers, Helen dreamed of creating an immersive artwork fed by the data to reflect the real-time aurora.

She firstly experimented with light and projection to create a magnetic storm happening all around the participants. However, trying to replicate the magnitude and majesty of the aurora became futile, her mimic could never compete.

So she chose instead to concentrate on sonifying the solar-wind data that she was able to stream from a satellite an hour away from earth. Helen used the x-OSC board, developed by x-io Technologies to develop her proto-type. This new board creates its own wi-fi network to transfer the data to each of the electromagnets controlling the movement (and the resultant shifts in pitch and tone) of the aluminium tubes suspended from the proto-type chime.

This residency took place under the theme of Communicating Science and was part of the graduate and new talent residency strand at Watershed's Pervasive Media Studio. It was supported by IOP Publishing.

Related Links:
Helen White
Pervasive Media Studio
IOP Publishing