I explore CERN

From the Central Saint Martins website, images by Nicolas Strappini


From experiments with cloud chambers to exploring NASA space models and a meeting with a Nobel Prize winner, 21 students and staff from our MA Art and Science explored CERN on an intensive four-day trip to Geneva. Some of them share their experiences of the trip below. 

Below: Nicolas Strappini at the Large Hadron Collider


“We set out to find out as much as we could about the work and life of CERN, challenging our preconceptions of how art could help with the process of thinking and conceiving new ideas.  We found out so much about everything from detectors to the photons in the Large Hadron Collider. I’m looking forward to making more black hole experiments back at CSM.“
Heather Scott, second year student

“One of my highlights was the final lecture from Prof. John Ellis, who reminded us of a painting by Gauguin which had the following statements tucked in a corner: ‘Where do we come from?’, ‘What are we?’, ‘Where are we going? CERN focused the mind on attempting to better understand the universe and what we can contribute to the sharing of scientific thought.”
Maria Macc, second year student


“I was particularly keen to experience Mick Storr’s cloud chamber experiments with my colleagues. We were challenged to think as physicists or meteorologists, to create our own chambers and describe our findings. Eventually we worked through our observations and in one afternoon we had created a device to display cosmic rays which are all around us!”
Nicolas Strappini, second year student

“CERN’s mission is to explore the origins of the universe, answering questions about where we come from and what we are made of. The science involves a discourse engaged with data, numbers, chemicals and particles. But the outcome is about humans and humanity, and the individuals driving this search are as important as the knowledge coming out of it.”
Jill Mueller, 1st year MAAS

We are very grateful to Dr Mick Storr, Dr Michael Hoch and all their colleagues at CERN. And, thanks to our colleague Dr Andy Charalambous, Associate Lecturer on the MA, for setting up the trip.

Following this trip, the students along with the accompanying tutors plan to create a display inspired by their visit – follow MA Art and Science on Twitter or Facebook for exhibition and research updates.

The experiences and insights featured in this piece were sourced by second year MA Art and Science student Maria Macc.

National Art Library Visit – Research

National Art Library Visit – Research



There is scant information about contemporary art in the National Library, but I did find some reference to Jackson Pollock’s painting methods.



Difficulties In The Scientific Study of Synthetic Materials In Paints 




My dissertation mentions the consistencies of paints and their comparison to different sorts of particles found in a cloud chamber. The ‘Jackson Pollock painting’ will display different strokes and intensities of line depending on how he has ‘flung the paint, like a lasso’.


Pollock’s introduction of synthetic binders and resins – ethyl silicate – was ‘one of the most important revolutions in the history of painting’ . (1)

There is a difference between the look of an alpha and beta particle track.

The work of Wilson, the inventor of the Wilson chamber, has also been held in similarly high esteem. Rutherford described his invention as  ‘the most original and wonderful instrument in scientific history.’


‘I had in view the possibility that the track of an ionising particle might be made visible and photographed by condensing water on the ions which it liberated’ – this introduction of condensed water to visualise these ionising particles could be compared to Pollock’s introduction of synthetic binders. Because of the synthetic binders, the paints would now dry at a much faster rate, changing painting as an art form for practitioners.

Wilson’s chamber would go on to be further developed by Blackett who made many important discoveries with it, notably the demonstration of the creation and annihilation of electron-positron pairs. Particle physics has become useful in a day-to-day way – X-ray, proton and ion therapies are used to treat cancer, and the rays can also determine the precise structure of viruses and mutations that cause disease and screen potential drug candidates.

‘Why is physics useful? Think of an expedition climbing Mount Everest. Is someone climbing Everest useful to you in everyday life? Not at first glance, no matter how interesting it is for its own sake. But fleece jackets and breathable waterproof fabrics were first developed for serious mountaineering expeditions and are now cheap and indispensable.’


By Kelen Tuttle, ‘Why particle physics matters’


The ‘scientific development’ of the art of painting, which changed the length of time people need to wait for their paints to dry, could be compared to the development of particle physics – from understanding more about the universe to cancer treatment.

Both, it would seem, improve the quality of life of people and practitioners. Was Pollock’s ‘discovery’ inadvertent, or does it matter?

Wilson set out with a clear goal – to imitate the Brockenspectre in laboratory settings.

Could it be the inadvertency of art that separates it from the purposeful science?






(1). Lodge.R.G.,  A history of synthetic painting media with special reference to commercial materials, American Institute for Conservation pre-prints of the 16th Annual Meeting, (1988), pp.118-127.