What do you get if you marry science with art? Simple, you get Julian Voss-Andreae, a German sculptor based in Portland, Oregon, US. This artist is a rare breed indeed since his sculptures touch upon quantum physics on the one hand and cellular proteins on the other…an incredible blend of technology and art.
Just to quote two of Voss-Andreae’s outstanding works. One, titled ‘Quantum Man’, was completed in 2006 and the other, called ‘Synergy’, is “a homage to collagen, our body’s most abundant protein”, as quoted by the science writer, Danielle Venton in her article ‘Science and Culture: Sculptures Reproduce Protein Structures’.
The ‘Quantum Man’ is an eight-feet-tall sculptor composed of over a hundred finely aligned parallel vertical steel sheets. When viewed from the front, it gives the appearance of a man walking, but as you move to one of its sides, it all but disappears, since now you are viewing the thin edges of these steel sheets. According to Arthur I Miller, who mentions it in his book ‘Colliding Worlds’, it represents quantum physics where an electron can be viewed as a wave or a particle, depending on how you look at it.
‘Synergy’, installed at Rutgers University, celebrates the new Center for Integrative Proteomics Research and also honors the pathbreaking work carried out by the center’s founding director, Helen M Berman, who determined the structure of collagen, a material that helps tendons bind muscles to the bones and ligaments to hold the joints together. In this sculpture, the angular strands of stainless-steel tubing with colored glass are clustered together to represent collagen. What’s so incredible about this sculpture is it is structurally accurate beyond two order-of-magnitude, since Voss-Andreae used the data stored at Rutgers’s Protein Data Bank.
Although Voss-Andreae started out as a painter, science exercised a strange pull on him and he changed tracks to study physics, mathematics, and philosophy at the universities of Berlin, Edinburg, and Vienna, respectively. He went on to pursue quantum physics and did his graduate research on it.
Voss-Andreae was no ordinary student, but a gifted genius, who in 1999 became part of a team that conducted experiments to show wave-particle duality. He described this exposure at the University of Vienna in the lab of Anton Zeilinger, a Wolf Prize-winning Austrian physicist, as something incredible.
Says he, “The first-hand experience of the deeply puzzling underlying nature of reality has informed my path since. It feels to me that I’ve received a sense of an underlying quantum world and I want to apply it to people, pull it from physics into our collective mind and create metaphors for it, because I feel there is so much to learn from it.”
Surprisingly, instead of taking any science-oriented job, Voss-Andreae switched back to art once he moved to the United States in 2000. Here he enrolled in the Pacific Northwest College of Art and graduated in 2004. Little wonder his science background inspires his works.
Not only was Voss-Andreae commissioned to install a large-scale outdoor sculpture at Rutgers University, but has also created sculptures for the University of Minnesota, Texas Tech University, and Georgia Institute of Technology. For Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida, he installed ‘Angel of the West’, a protein sculpture portraying the human antibody molecule. He also made a sculpture for Nobel laureate, Roderick MacKinnon based on the ion channel structure. His recent works include a series of quantum physics-inspired sculptures that he exhibited at the American Center for Physics.
Voss-Andreae’s works have been featured in print and online media across the world. He also has a sizeable fan following on social media.