Fermi National Laboratory

MODE - Digital Images By Eric J. Heller

Eric J. Heller - Artist Statement

I have always taken a very visual and intuitive approach to my research, which involves the application of quantum mechanics to various problems in the atomic world. I produce images as a regular part of my research, as do many scientists these days. The visual processing power we carry around with us is enormous, and the right image can go a long way to prove a key point or leave a lasting impression on a colleague. Imagery is a formidable teaching tool, to teach ourselves, our colleagues, and the public. Images are increasingly being used in the mathematical and physical sciences. The computer has made them compelling, by drawing things of incredible detail (and sometimes beauty) in a short time. The images seen in Mode are born of my research and start out as described above, as an intuitive tool and finally a product of research. But they attempt to go beyond this. For a long time I have been driven to take a new image or an algorithm for making it on the computer and play with it, to abstract from it some familiar forms which were once again emerging from representation of the invisible quantum world. I delight in the way Nature repeats herself, and try to exploit it. For example, the way electrons flow in small quantum dots resembles the way some bushes branch; thus Transport IV, which looks like a backlit photograph of an exotic botanical specimen. Or, the same electron flow results in “caustic” structures which are identical to those seen when looking through sheer, folded material; thus, the translucent “kelp” in Transport IV. The exploitation of natural forms serves several purposes. It highlights the “real” physics and suggests analogies that people might be more familiar with (like the pattern of light on the bottom of a swimming pool, as in Caustic I). The images are based on physical principles and manipulated to relate to experience-an emotional tie to the viewer.

The computer is a new artists’ medium. It can draw fantastically detailed and imaginative things which are impossible for human hands to render. The computer is not a substitute for traditional art forms and it will never replace any of them. But it takes its place alongside the traditional methods, since like them it makes new forms of expression possible.

Most of the images are produced pixel by pixel by a computer algorithm which I have written (about 15 different algorithms are represented here), The pixel data goes to a high end “LightJet” imager, where typically 150,000,000 pixels are rendered by a laser to archival photo paper. The paper is then developed in the traditional way in chemical baths. So far, the color brilliance and permanence of this method exceeds the best inkjet technology.

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last modified 7/29/2003   email Fermilab
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