Corps á Corps with Elementary Particles


Several decades ago, philosopher of science Ian Hacking argued that experimental physics provided the strongest evidence of scientific realism. He stated that unobservable "experimental entities," such as electrons, are manipulated every day in laboratories. They become tools - instruments for doing something.

Hacking's friend, who was working on an experiment designed to find fractional electric charges, explained that to gradually alter the charge of a niobium ball, you simply had to spray it with either positrons or electrons. It confirmed Hacking's assumption: "If you spray them, then they are real." (Representing and Intervening [1983], pp.22-23.)

In the Foyer Gallery, we have assembled an installation which couples computer programming with an LCD projector and a motion capture device to create a visual impression of particle behavior. Though the display does not pretend to accurately represent or let you manipulate entities from the quantum world, it helps depict such a "realist" interaction. During one portion of the representation, your body's movement appears to disrupt "fermions," particles that are incapable of sharing an identical quantum state - they have to spread apart. Stick around for a few moments, and the display changes: your body excites "bosons," entities not restricted by the number of them crowding one quantum state - they overlap each other. Fermions (for Enrico Fermi) are form matter (leptons and quarks), whereas bosons (for Satyendra Nath Bose) are force carriers, i.e. the glue that holds matter together.

The installation invites the visitor to experiment and contemplate the standard model of particle physics. Whether or not one has a scientific realism worldview á la Hacking doesn't matter. While playing with their projected image on the screen, it is possible to imagine being corps á corps with invisible forces and matter.

- Jean-François Gauvin

Professor Dave Explains: The Standard Model



This installation is a creation of the camerAnebbia design studio based in Milan, Italy, specializing in "landscapes for the unseen." It was originally developed for the exhibition Enrico Fermi: A Dual Genius Between Theories and Experiments at the Centro Fermi, Rome.

With sincere gratitude:

Lorenzo Sarti, camerAnebbia
Professor Luisa Cifarelli, Centro Fermi
Michael Kelley, CHSI
Richard Wright, CHSI
Maureen Ton, CHSI
Harvard Science Center Administration
and Technical Team