Take some electrons, accelerate them at 200,000 Volts, bend them into a tiny beam with electromagnets, fire them through some crystals, bend them again with some more electromagnets…and we see diffraction.
A slightly easier way is to look at the back of a CD, where the tiny lines on the CD diffract light and separate the different colours. Replace ‘light’ with ‘electrons’, and ‘tiny lines’ with ‘rows of atoms’ and we get an electron diffraction pattern that tells us a lot about nano-sized and even smaller structures, and gives a kind of fingerprint for each material. It’s worth the extra hassle, and some of the patterns can be quite beautiful too!
Perhaps not as famous as the double helix of DNA, the triple helix is just as useful and 50% more helical. It is the structure of the collagen molecules that make up a big part of our bones, teeth, muscles, skin, and various other bits. The triple helix shape helps to make it strong and tough, a bit like the twisted fibres of a rope.
More importantly, the triple helix is the path followed by the feathers on an arrow, so when my archery coach says “visualise the arrow hitting the middle of the target” I see something like this.
A form of wet precipitation more familiar to most people than “Wet Precipitation 1”, though it’s usually pronounced “rain”. That greenish blue under a big rain cloud is probably the best colour anywhere, which is why I’m one of the few people happy to see a forecast for thunderstorms. Also, this makes it three paintings in a row from right outside the front door…there’s always something new to see if you look up.
Clouds are under-rated. Sunny weather is all very nice, but I could paint a blue sky with a roller. Clouds on the other hand give us rainbows, and even without the rainbow they can be just as colourful.
The Irish summer….I think I see a bit over there, get the barbeque ready!
Wet precipitation is the process that gives us stalactites and stalagmites, teeth, and many other interesting things. Dissolve the right ingredients in water (wet), mix them together in the right way, and all kinds of solids can form out of the liquid (precipitation). I use it all the time to make nanocrystals like the ones in our teeth, and many other people use it for many other things, but exactly how atoms go from bouncing around a liquid to lining up neatly in a crystal is not entirely understood. In my head it looks like this.
Wicklow, the garden of Ireland. Rich farmland, rolling green hills, tree-lined rivers…and the odd dusty valley that would convince you you’re in the wild west when the sun is blazing down on it. I asked the man with no name to sign it for me but….
This time last month I was in Limoges, in central France, for the 13th conference of the European Ceramic Society. The conference includes a presentation competition for young researchers, and I was lucky enough to represent Ireland in it. As well as meeting some clever people and learning a few things, I had a chance to explore the town a bit. Gare Benedictins is the central train station, a beautiful building at any time but all the better when the sky gets dramatic behind it.
The surface of our teeth is made of a hierarchical structure of very small and very organised crystals. Individual atoms are organised into 50-nanometre-wide crystal rods, which are organised into 4 micrometre wide prisms, which are organised into overlapping layers that make your teeth hard enough and tough enough to last a lifetime. It’s an amazing material and a lot of my research is about trying to copy it. Rather than waste any more words trying to explain, here’s a video that does a much better job!
Zoom in to a Tooth
I had planned something with a bit of science in it for the opening, but the weather we have at the moment deserves a painting I think. So here’s a nice bit of a sunset.
Remember, each painting in The ART Approach is for sale for one week only. Find it on eBay