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The beauty of gravitational waves

24 Nov 2016 Matin Durrani

By Matin Durrani

A new painting by Welsh artist Penelope Cowley is the latest attempt to bring art and science together. Set to be unveiled on Friday 25 November at Cardiff University’s school of physics and astronomy, the 1.2 × 1.5 m picture was inspired by the recent detection of gravitational waves by the LIGO collaboration.

According to the university, the oil painting “combines a visualization of data taken from the equipment used to detect the first gravitational waves…with an imagination of some of the celestial bodies that are responsible for creating these waves, such as binary black holes and neutron stars”.

Cowley created the painting after being “inspired by the sheer overwhelming immensity” of the discovery of gravitational waves and discussing the work with Cardiff physicist Mark Hannam. “When working on the painting I tried to imagine the data as visible waves and then place structures such as binary black holes and neutron stars into a diverse and busy universe,” she says.

Cowley has also made the video below with Chris North, Ed Fauchon-Jones and sound engineer Jason Charles Rogers. It includes the “chirp” of the gravitational wave that was detected, which appears as “a constant beat throughout the whole piece as the foundation of the audio”.

The painting will hang in Cardiff’s gallery coffee area, which already features three of Cowley’s paintings depicting the physics of magnetism.

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