(art)n Artists: 

Ellen Sandor, Chris Kemp, and Diana Torres

Collaborative Artists: 

Jennifer Raaf, Sam Zeller, Thomas Junk and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
Special Thanks Georgia Schwender, Kurt Riesselmann, and Anne Mary Teichert


Virtual Photograph


Duratrans, Kodalth, Plexiglas


Neutrinos in a New Light: Selected Works of Art & Science, Fermilab Art Gallery, Batavia, IL, December 2, 2016-March 17, 2017: Exhibition Catalogue




The MicroBooNE particle detector resides inside a closed chamber (about the size of a school bus) lled entirely with liquid argon. Neutrinos are constantly being shot though the chamber and on occasion they will collide with an argon nucleus. The collision sometimes causes the argon nucleus to break up and at other times the nucleus remains intact, but in both cases the aftermath of the collision results in protons, neutrons, and other particles being expelled, sending them ying out from the collision point. The exiting particles leave trails of charge behind them as they pass through the detector, and these trails of charge are the way that scientists identify what type of interaction the neutrino had with the argon nucleus. A strong electric eld is used to push the charged streams toward one side of the detector, which is instrumented with delicate wires arranged in a grid-like pattern that can sense the charge. Light is also created as the exiting particles travel through the liquid, and it is recorded by light-sensitive detectors situated behind the charge-sensing planes of wires.

Both the light and the charge are important in understanding the details of the neutrino interactions. Data from the charge-sensing wires are displayed as a two-dimensional graph showing the path and the activity of particles exiting the neutrino interaction. Multiple views of the two-dimensional plane allow scientists to create three-dimensional graphs that are used to interpret the data. These graphs are color-coded and can be quite beautiful and reminiscent of abstract art.

With the (art)n MicroBooNE VR, the recorded charge of the outgoing particles is replaced with colorful drawn lines and painted strokes in a Jackson Pollock style, as well as constructed sculpture in the style of David Smith’s Giacometti-inspired work. Both the Pollock painted brush strokes and the Smith sculptures are built up in relation to the course of the particles, illustrating their paths both two-dimen-sionally and three-dimensionally, while elaborating on the artful presentation of the scienti c data and honoring the style of these in uential presences in art history.

Jackson Pollock was an American born painter renown for his role as one of the premier artists of the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1940s. He is best known for his wild and resonate drip paintings, which Pollock created by dripping, pouring, and splattering resin-based paints onto large oor-lying canvasses in a process called action painting. This method of painting was just as much about the physical act of painting a work as it was about the nal image. (art)n uses Jackson Pollock’s unique drip painting style to artistically demonstrate the 2-dimensional graphs Fermilab researchers acquire from the charge-sensing wires inside MicroBooNE. In the same way Pollock’s paint drips record his own movements of his action painting process, MicroBooNE data graphs illustrate the paths and the activities of the charged particles exiting the neutrino interaction.

Like Pollock, David Smith was also an American born artist who worked primarily in seclusion while expressing emotions in his work through strictly abstract ways. Combining in uences of European Modernism including Cubism, Surrealism, and Constructivism, Smith is noted for essentially translating the painterly concerns of the Abstract Expressionist movement into sculpture. Traditional metal sculpture and casts required premeditation and design but Smith built his sculpture in the moment, welding metal pieces together in whatever form he currently desired. Smith considered himself more a painter than sculptor, considering his method of work. Later Smith began exploring stainless steel sculpture with burnished textures added through sanding and his work evolved into much more minimalistic art. In the end he was known along with his fellow artist of the times Alberto Giacometti, as one of the greatest sculptors of the era. (art)n uses an evolution of David Smith’s various sculpture work to artistically demonstrate the three-dimensional data graphs Fermilab researchers gain from analyzing multiple views of the two-dimensional planes. In the same way Smith’s sculptures became more minimal over time, the three-dimensional data is interpreted from the existing two-dimensional so it’s less detailed than its Jackson Pollock implied predecessor.