Antony Hall
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Mercuriscope [Work in Progress]

Mercuriscope, Installation Detail 2011/2013 Mercury Beating Heart [Work In progress/ Collaboration with Dr Andrea Sella]

Mercuriscope [Work in Progress]
Experimental laser projection and sonification of the mercury beating heart.Collaboration with Andrea Sella, UCL, demonstrated at Elements, Welcome Trust 2011, and Caterbury Festival 2013.

'...Mercury is the most beautiful element in the periodic table, and the most reviled. The only liquid metal, its inertness and density have made it crucial to science. But its red ore cinnabar has appeared in artwork for over 2000 years...' Dr Andrea Sella.

The mercury beating heart is an electrochemical redox reaction between mercury, Iron, sulphuric acid and chromium. In our experiment a droplet of mercury is placed in a pool of Sulphuric acid [the electrolyte] with chromium [the oxidising agent] The iron is provided by carefully placing the tip of a paper clip into the solution so it just touches the droplet. When contact is made between the paper clip and the droplet there is an exchange of electrons causing the surface tension of the droplet to change, and so changing its shape. This immediately causes the droplet to twitch.

Manipulating the position of the paperclip clip it is possible to make the droplet oscillate and pulsate autonomously. The surface of the mercury droplet oxidises, changing the surface tension, causing the droplet to flatten out. When the clip makes contact with the mercury surface it oxidises, reducing the oxidised mercury surface back to metallic mercury, causing the droplet to return to its more rounded shape, thus loosing contact with the clip. And so the droplet begins to oxidise again starting the process over. Careful placement of the paperclip results on a continually oscillating droplet. From our experiments, augmented with a reflecting 70mw laser, and 2 photo sensors to sonify the reaction, we observed sonically and visually, several oscillatory states.

Adding a few drops of sulphuric acid may leads to a fizzing on the droplet surface, one is able to see a dull layer forming and breaking up, even a directional rushing of fluid over the surface.

Mercuriscope, Installation Detail 2011/2013 Mercury Beating Heart [Work In progress/ Collaboration with Dr Andrea Sella]

The reaction is very temperamental, with work it can be coaxed into a rapid irregular twitching, and from this point it will then settle into the larger maximal low frequency pulse whereby the droplet appears to undulate between triangular and hexagonal modes. Later on the droplet seems to settle out into a steady pulse where there is little deflection in shape. The laser not only enabled us to listen to the sound of the beating heart, it created a fantastic projection.

Several different effects are achieved by placing the laser at different points on the droplet.Between oscillations we noticed some interesting optical effects as a result of the diffraction and refraction of the light around the curved surface of the droplet into the liquid pool. Notably microscopy effectcts as well as an excellent display of ‘Newton’s rings’ gradually emerging as the droplet settled between oscillations.
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