An installation in the Media Union of the Duderstadt Center allows visitors to experience something often discussed in science fiction novels. Jeweled Net of the Vast Invisible: An Experience of Dark Matter — which officially opened Wednesday and is open until Friday — offers the public the opportunity to witness something that is otherwise invisible to the naked eye: dark matter.
A team of researchers and graduate students projected a computer simulation of data from billions of particles in our universe onto a 20-foot-high, 140-degree panoramic screen. Attendees are immersed in
“jeweled spaces” of particles and matter that displays how the world would have looked following the Big Bang. Dark matter is simulated from billions of data regarding our solar system.
The MCubed seed grant program, funding programs consisting of faculty in a variety of disciplines, sponsored the event.
Physics Prof. Gregory Tarlé, who conceptualized the project, said the idea for the installation came from his desire to make the beauty behind his research of cosmology, the scientific study of the development of the universe, more accessible.
“When I do my research in cosmology, I see all sorts of very beautiful things,” Tarlé said. “But these things are buried in data and equations and things that are not accessible to the general public. And so I thought that it might be possible, through art, to reveal this kind of beauty that’s in the universe to people who are not cosmologists.”
Tarlé collaborated with both Art & Design Prof. Jim Cogswell and Stephen Rush, professor of performing arts technology, to create a visual simulation for the University community to experience. The project team also hired University alum Jason Eaton, who graduated with a degree in computer science, to work on computer visualizations.
“We just started brainstorming, coming up with ideas about how to visualize that which is invisible …the dark matter of the universe — the cosmic web which forms the structure into which the stars, galaxies…” Tarlé said.
In a preview Tuesday, a live jazz band from the School of Music, Theatre & Dance accompanied the visualizations. The melody of jazz constantly shifted from ominous to celebratory, varying based on the scenes of the simulated universe. As the lights travelled more quickly, the harmony quickened, providing the sensation of actual flight.
Tarlé said having music incorporated in the presentation of dark matter was essential to the project.
“The music kind of created a sense that there was something going on, and brought you through those parts of the visualization where things are fairly uniform, and gave a sense that something was about to happen,” Tarlé said. “When things started to happen, the music tied it all together and gave audio cues to what you were seeing.”
Tarlé said in the future he would like to see this project displayed in a museum.
“I would like to take this to a museum somewhere and get it put it up as an installation…I think that would be a very good way to carry this forward,” Tarlé said.
As for Tuesday’s viewing audience, Tarlé said his favorite part was watching the reactions of the younger attendees.
“There were a bunch of little kids that were watching this just getting really excited … I loved their reaction,” Tarlé said. They’re just looking at the thing and getting captured by it. It shows that science can be presented to people of all ages if you do it right.”
Summer Managing News Editor Lara Moehlman contributed reporting.