imachinations in physiscs

Especially high energy physics (hep) with its large particle accelerators are large based on highly differentiated division of labour spread over the globe.


What’s the role of the individual in such imachinative complexes? Peter Galison’s history of “a material culture of microphysics” responds on that question with a quotation from 1967 by the leader of the BNL’s bubble chamber group Alan Thorndike:

“ 'The experimenter', Thorndike judged, 'is not one person, but a composite.' Dispersed over institutions and around the world, the experimenter could be permanent or fleeting. 'He is social phenomenon, varied in form and impossible to define precisely. One thing, however, he certainly is not. He is not . . . a cloistered scientist working in isolation at the laboratory bench.'S The author of microphysical experimentation had come to reside in the interaction between chamber [bubble chamber], computer and collaboration.[1]

Detail from a bubble chamber photograph , CERN 28 September 1973

Image & Logic

In his history of microphysics Peter Galison describes a division in two traditions how to find a representation and proof of physical process. The older one is the “image” tradition recording material tracks with analogue methods of nuclear emulsions, cloud and bubble chambers. The logic tradition is less a picturing but more a counting method producing data to be interpreted statistically after. Computer simulations made in advance play a crucial role for the logic tradition, too. Constructing an experiment finally the results of simulations anticipate the material design of the experiment.


Images play a crucial role in the communication between this experimenting composites. Images loose their static character and become continuously performative components of the collective communication. This is why Karin Cetina Knorr speaks about a visual discourse – a “Viskurs”.[2]


Finally it is no wonder but just a necessity that the WWW was invented at a hep institution like the CERN. Today the hep institutions are the avant-garde in developing computational grids to get their vast amounts of data processed. (more...)

STAR-experiment:: Animation of gold collision events. 2005 Jerôme Lauret/ BNL


- Imachinations at the High Altitutde Research Station Jungfraujoch.
- More about composites.
- Walking for art's sake, movie and performance in the 27 km tunnel by artist Gianni Motti
- "I see what I see not": an art & science project at the Kunstfassade Munich, worked explicitely with such imachinations from particle physics and astronomy:
English, 5,5 min., Quicktime, 8,0 Mb deutsch, 6,5 min., Quicktime, 9,8 Mb

[1] Galison, Peter: Image and Logic – a material culture of microphysics, Chicago 1997, p. 431.
[2] Knorr Cetina, Karin: “Viskurse” der Physik – Konsensbildung und visuelle Darstellung, in: Heintz, Bettina; Huber, Jörg (Hgg.): Mit dem Auge denken – Strategien der Sichbarmachung in wissenschaftlichen und virtuellen Welten, Zürich 2001, p.305- , p.309.