Wright Lab hosts 2024 Visualize Science competition at CCAM

People sitting at a table with art supplies on it.
May 3, 2024

On April 27, artists, scientists, engineers, and dilettantes convened at the Yale Center for Collaborative Arts and Media (CCAM) to participate in the 2024 Visualize Science contest.  This was the third iteration of the Visualize Science contest hosted by Wright Lab. This year’s contest was also co-sponsored by CCAM, Eric Fleischmann, and the Yale Quantum Institute.

The objective of the half-day-long competition was for teams of artists and scientists to work together to create a conceptual model of a scientific concept, and realize it in either two- or three-dimensional format using materials provided for the competition.

The concept chosen for this year’s competition was dark matter, which is is one of the greatest mysteries in contemporary astrophysical research and a subject explored by several research groups at Wright Lab.  By matching theory with observations, scientists believe that approximately 80% of the matter in the Universe is composed of dark matter; yet researchers have been unable to directly detect dark matter and the nature of this substance is unknown. 

Wright Lab DOE Trainee Celín Hidalgo ran the event, which began with a conversation with Sabrina Zacarias, a Wright Lab postdoctoral associate who develops detector technologies for dark matter experiments, about the nature of dark matter and how it can be visualized if it is both invisible and unknown.

The teams then split into two groups, calling themselves the “Dark Lords” and the “Sith Lords”, to work with art materials provided and create models of dark matter.

Both teams chose to demonstrate observations that scientists have made of phenomena that suggest the existence of dark matter. 

The Dark Lords, who were awarded the Judge’s award, made an allegorical model of lensing, with a snail trying to see a galaxy that is blocked by dark matter (represented by the “cosmic” turtle), so it instead sees a distorted galaxy in a different position (pictured on the left, below). 

According to Wright Lab graduate student and Visualize Science participant Claire Laffan, The Sith Lords, who were awarded the People’s Award, made a model (pictured on the right, below) of the galaxy rotation problem discovered in the latter half of the 20th century by astronomer Vera Rubin, which Rubin claimed was undeniable evidence of dark matter.  The Sith Lords also chose to make a 3D animation of their sculpture

Laffan further explained, “The foundation of the structure—the purple/blue disk—represents the dark matter halo in and around the galaxy. The black sphere in the middle represents the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy, about which baryonic matter and dark matter rotate. The spiral arms of the galaxy (pipe cleaners) contain large structures of baryonic matter such as solar systems (yellow and pink clay). The small blobs of purple clay representing dark matter were added in increasing amounts as we made the animation. The more dark matter there is, the faster the galaxy rotates.”

two sculptures on a table.

More images of the event and the animations can be found on our Flickr Album, linked below.

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