Invisible Beauty

person with art

Invisible Beauty – Ivan Lozano

The human eye, despite its marvelous gift of allowing us to perceive our environment, is a relatively poor instrument when it comes to seeing the spectrum of light. We have profound colorblindness, with our vision capable of only seeing an “octave” of the light spectrum. In the words of David Helfand, we aren’t “Seeing the Whole Symphony.” Mankind had to be a little more creative to “see” outside its limited scope. The way early scientists went about it was looking towards the stars: radio telescopes were made to view the low-frequency waves of light that emanated from the heavens. Higher frequency light had a harder time breaking through the atmosphere, due to their higher rate of interactions with particles in the atmosphere, so it took a while longer to be able to observe them. Radio waves from sources outside of earth were first observed in 1933, but it wasn’t until 1962, with the achievement of space travel, that higher energy waves from the cosmos could be observed.
This does not mean that we cannot appreciate the beauty of some of these higher energy light waves down here on earth, specifically light in the ultraviolet spectrum. As Paul Hewitt explains in Physics Fundamentals, there are materials that absorb ultraviolet light and emit visible light. This happens whenever their atoms get excited: visible light is created by a sudden jump of one of the atom’s electrons to a higher energy state, then its immediate de-excitation to a lower energy state. Every time this electron de-energizes in this manner, a photon of visible light is released, and we are able to observe it. Another way to indirectly see ultraviolet light is through the phosphorescent effect, which is when a time delay occurs between the excitation and de-energizing of the electrons. This allows them to emit light in its absence, causing an afterglow visible in darkness.
The artwork shows not only how these phenomena take place, but it only shows it when it takes place. The strokes made in light paint are near invisible unless ultraviolet light is shined on them, and then, once it is, the artwork shows an abstractive interpretation of how fluorescence happens. The seemingly blank canvas is also representative of the eastern philosophy of empty space being a void, a plenum, filled with matter, yet, as Leonard Slain from Arts & Physics puts it, “ pregnant with possibility.” An empty nothingness has the possibility of spontaneously forming something, and is very much alive. In the case of the canvas, light and color come forth when high energy light interacts with it. In the case of the empty field, matter, in the form of virtual particles, is wrung out from quantum fluctuations.
The natural phenomena of fluorescence, while on its own just a fascinating occurrence, has been used for many technological and medical breakthroughs. One of the most common technologies that take advantage of fluorescence is the fluorescent lamp, which consists of a cylindrical glass tube with electrodes at each end. Within it is a low-pressure mercury vapor, which becomes increasingly excited and emits UV light. Phosphors, fine powder particles, lining the inside of the tube are then excited by this light and release the light of their own, in the form of white (visible) light.
Immunofluorescence microscopy, as described by Eriona Hysolli, is another technology that arose from fluorescence, and is used to map out the proteins of cells, allowing biologists and doctors to understand how cells function. The process involves fluorescent dyes being intercalated between biomolecules, though this tends to be non-discriminate, staining the cell as a whole. This makes scientists favor fluorophores for their dye, as they only target certain parts
of cells. Once the cell or tissue is dyed, lasers are concentrated on the dyed regions to see the emissions from the dyes that have bonded to the biomolecules. The largest issue with immunofluorescence microscopy is that only four fluorophores are currently known of, so it is difficult to have a cohesive, complete map of these cells, as it becomes increasingly more tedious to isolate its proteins.
This natural, beautiful, phenomenon should and is being further researched to find its applications in other technologies. Taking advantage of this phenomena is a form of art, with creativity being necessary to bring forth new, unthought of realities, to bring an imaginative dream forward from a nothingness.