Wednesday, November 20, 2013

CAMPUS BEAT: MIT Museum/Stanley Greenberg Time Machines

Bubble Chamber image by Stanley Greenberg

Link to the Exhibition Website:

The PR Buzz: "New York-based photographer Stanley Greenberg has long entranced viewers with his stunning black-and-white photographs that provide unparalleled access to objects and places ordinary prople might otherwise never see- from New York's century-old water system to the hidden infrastructure of some of the world's most impressive architectural works. In this exhibition, Greenberg turns his lens on the unfailingly strange world of nuclear and particle physics."

Recommended For: a unique cross-over of art and science.

Curator: Gary Van Zante, Curator, Architecture & Design, in collaboration with Dr. Janet Conrad, MIT Professor of Physics

The Experience:
Brrrr, it's getting chilly in the Hub! I hustled along the breezy sidewalks of Central Square to the MIT Museum on Mass Ave and made my way up the stairs to the second floor galleries.  The Kurtz Photography Galleries are tucked in the far back corner, so you have to make your way through a number of other exhibitions to get to the Greenberg show. This is hardly an imposition. I got to pass through 5,000 Moving Parts, an exhibition of kinetic sculpture, while it was under installation.  It opens Nov. 21st, and I can't wait to see it.

Time Machines is attractively installed in the Kurtz galleries. Greenberg's silver gelatin prints look just right on the walls and encompass the mind-boggling array of inscrutable geometries- from retro scifi to angularly futuristic-  involved in the engineering of subatomic inquiry.  The prints are devoid of human presence so the scale of what you are looking at is often ambiguous and requires careful study to figure out.

The photographs are accompanied by fascinating, but excruciatingly small labels. Less dedicated label readers than I will miss some of the more compelling descriptions. For example; did you know that there was a neutrino observatory at the South Pole that is installed in a cubic kilometer of clear Antarctic ice? Or that Argentinian cows once upset the observation of cosmic rays? Or that a subatomic detector at Stanford was made from steel recycled from a ship sunk at Pearl Harbor because the immersion of the metal meant that it was less radioactive than new steel produced today? Or the dizzying alphabet soup of acronyms including  LIGO, TRIUMF, IceCube, CERN, ATLAS, KEK, DESY, OPERA, MINOS, LHC, KLOE, CMS, KamLAND, CEBAF, SLAC and SNO. And then if you're a really careful reader you'll also find ZEUS, which is actually a physics joke, and a reasonably funny one at that.

You  would also miss this compelling quote from Greenberg himself about film negatives used in the observation of the results of particle collisions, "Just as most physics experiments have shifted to electronic and digital representation of particle collisions, the photographic world has largely abandoned film for digital media. The idea that the photons from particles actually touched the substrate reminds me that film has an unparalleled tactility that has never ceased to work visual- and scientific- miracles."

By now, you probably get the fact that I liked this show.
-Vident Omnes

P.S. If you ask nicely at the desk, you can get a free booklet entitled Backstories: The Physics Experiments Behind Stanley Greenberg's "Time Machines"

While You're There: I bookended my visit with stops at Central Square's Mariposa Bakery and Cafe Luna, both highly recommended!

TGC Wheel, CERN, 2006

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