The Whitworth Gallery in Manchester celebrated its reopening recently with an unusual project – creating graphene from works of art.
Artist Cornelia Parker, formerly an artist in residence at the Science Museum in London, teamed up with the Nobel prize-winning physicist and graphene pioneer, Professor Konstantin Novoselov, to take fragments of graphite from drawings by Blake, Turner, Picasso and Constable, and turn them into graphene.
Novoselov described the idea as “bringing back to life the old drawings of the old masters,”
Prof Novoselov jokingly suggested that he was removing a few pencil strokes to “correct” these great artists’ mistakes in their work.
Following this with the reassurance that the effects, however, would be unnoticeable, as it involved graphite on a scale less than 0.1mm in size, aiming for the single layer of carbon atoms called graphene.
One of the many valuable properties of graphene is its very efficient electric conductivity. In this case, it was used to create a switch which, triggered a firework display when it was breathed into.
Parker was inspired by Blake’s poem America: A Prophecy, in which he wrote of “flam’d red meteors” and “terrible wandering comets”. so the fireworks included meteoric fragments from Arizona, which were propelled upwards into the night.
“Artists and scientists are very close,” Parker says. “They always have been, but I think we’ve just been divided out over the last few centuries into specialisms.
“Leonardo da Vinci was drawing helicopters and all kinds of things. We’re artificially divided. I think we’re closer than we think we are.”