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A TRIUMF for art and science at the home of particle and nuclear physics

Artist-in-residence Blaine Campbell says that as someone who has worked in both fields, he can see the connection ‘in terms of the thought process and the way you have to kind of creatively abstract ideas to come up with things.’


Art is colliding with science inside Canada's home for particle and nuclear physics.

The artist-in-residence program at TRIUMF in Vancouver is bridging the divide between the two disciplines, allowing artists to interpret science, while bringing those scientific ideas to the public in a more accessible fashion.

Blaine Campbell, an Edmonton resident who holds degrees in mathematics as well as a fine arts degree from Emily Carr University of Art and Design, is the newest creator to fill the post.

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Mr. Campbell recently wrapped up his second visit to TRIUMF, which is located on the University of British Columbia's campus but is not part of UBC, photographing the facility and its equipment.

His work comes as TRIUMF celebrates the 40th anniversary of the commissioning of the world's largest cyclotron, a particle accelerator that drives cutting-edge science.

"Well, I'm intrigued by the idea, the division between the two [art and science], or the perceived division between the two that is almost ingrained into society now that you're either in humanities or sciences or engineering and the two shall not meet, so to speak," he said.

"As somebody who has worked in both domains, I can see connection in terms of the thought process and the way that you have to kind of creatively abstract ideas to come up with things, whether it be in art or in sciences."

One of Mr. Campbell's most-recent works includes a kaleidoscope-like stained-glass piece composed of images from the Hubble Space Telescope archive. He also recently completed a second piece, a metal engraving made up of a modified equation meant to summarize all known physics.

Mr. Campbell said the program, which doesn't include a paid fellowship, has allowed him to meet with TRIUMF researchers, discuss their work and get a close-up look at their areas of specialization.

He said he initially wanted to conduct a photographic study focusing on detectors – pieces of equipment that detect energetic subatomic particles – but he has since found other things that are visually interesting.

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Jonathan Bagger, director of TRIUMF, said the program helps show the public that science isn't practised just for scientists.

"Science is done for society, and for really everybody," he said. "There are many ways of communicating science, of expressing the results of science, and I would say the artist-in-residence program is one of the very powerful ways we have of bringing this science to the broader world."

Mr. Bagger, who previously served at Johns Hopkins University as chair of the department of physics and astronomy, said TRIUMF is well connected to the community and has a "very active engagement" with Emily Carr University.

Lisa Lambert, head of strategic communications at TRIUMF, said in an e-mail that the relationship with Emily Carr dates back to 2009, when the program was first established.

She said Ingrid Koenig, an associate professor at Emily Carr who has taught a course called Black Holes and Other Transformations of Energy, will also continue as an artist in residence at TRIUMF until 2018.

Beside Ms. Koenig and Mr. Campbell, two others, David Harris and Andres Wanner, have also served as artists in residence, Ms. Lambert said.

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She said TRIUMF, which is owned and operated by 19-member universities from across Canada, is committed to sharing its work and the "excitement of science and discovery," beyond the laboratory, with the public.

"We view the TRIUMF artist-in-residence program as an extension of this, bringing the art and science together and exploring both in interesting ways that provide connection to the community and culture," she said.

Mr. Campbell, meantime, said he plans to return to TRIUMF in March, and until then he's got no shortage of ideas.

"There are always ideas that bubble around," he said. "Project ideas, I usually have a list of 20 or 30 things that I would like to be doing if I had the money and the time to do them. That list always kind of changes and evolves and gets added to."

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