It was part of the Imperial Fringe festival series, a successful events programme that gets scientists from around college to set out an imaginative stall showing how their research fits into the Fringe theme, and through that, how their science works.
The theme of this Fringe event was the Arts and there were some intriguing approaches. The stall Phantom Sounds explained how phantom tones occur in music. These happen when two notes play simultaneously while the pitch of one note gradually falls. The listener hears the sound of a second note rising in pitch, even though there isn’t one. The effect is caused by a combination of resonance in the inner ear and the brain being fooled by the falling pitch. First noticed by the violinist Tartini, phantom tones were notably used to great effect in Jacob Kirkegaard’s Labyrinthitis.
Another stall tested heart rate changes in response to hearing different types of music but the rate wasn’t measured through the normal method of pressure fluctuations in the pulse. Instead, electrical fluctuations were measured. Testing heart rate from electrical fluctuations along different ‘leads’ of the body can give clues to possible heart disease. A live band played different types of music to try to provoke heart rate changes in visitors who had been wired up to the apparatus but, unfortunately, the tests didn’t produce the hoped-for results. Earlier on, one visitor’s pulse had shot up when the band played Justin Bieber, but it turned out that was because he hated Justin Bieber, rather than because the music stirred him to a change in heart rate.
There were other stalls such as the juggling stall where researchers had worked out mathematical notation for measuring the path of juggling balls in flight. Physical arts were represented by performers on a pole in the centre of the room. On the Good Vibrations stall the note purity of different musical instruments was tested using a frequency spectrum (Triangles played the purest note). Elsewhere, weaving was used to conceptualise the mathematical enigma of tough knots. These were all interesting demonstrations and they touched on the materials and processes that generate different art forms, but there was hardly any actual art on show.
One stall represented Artifact – a project that helps artistic collaborations between Imperial College scientists and artists from the Royal College of Art. It’s an exciting project and they have a show coming up in May but at this event, all they could manage was a make-your-own watery image gimmick using milk, ink and washing up liquid. There were lots of art materials on show, but few were giving the artistic experience.
The Arts Experiment 2.0 took place at Imperial College London on 20 February 2014.
IMAGE: Thomas Angus / Imperial College London