Unit Cell: from desperation to discovery
Unit cell is a project funded by the Royal Society of Chemistry, first researched and developed at ASMbly 2013. The central idea involved using sound waves to illustrate diffraction through a lattice, in effect simulating X-ray crystallography. The lattice was to be constructed from beach balls, which would reflect the sound if sufficiently solid.
Initial attempts to fill the balls with PU foam failed, as the foam would not cure in the absence of air!
As a fall back plan of desperation, everyone was blowing up balls with good old air… I would love to say it did not get competitive, but that might not be true.
Eventually, the balls could be inserted into tied string bunches and hung from the shop’s suspended ceiling rails. A scaffold frame would follow in the final design but was beyond the budget for these first attempts.
After many laborious hours of puffing, stringing and hanging, something resembling a crystal lattice was made and a sceptical team of scientists (Ben and Mike) were astounded to discover that at a frequency of around 160 Hz, there were distinguishable zones of loud and quiet both in front of and behind the lattice (relative to the speaker). Simply inflating the balls provided a reflective enough surface to ‘scatter’ the sound waves and cause interference, i.e diffraction. Jaws dropped and people gaped. We will go on with this project after all it seems!
After ASMbly Lab Superposition were invited to display at Light Night Leeds 2013
Unit Cell was billed as an immersive sound sculpture inspired by the work of WL and WH Bragg who first proposed using x-rays to study crystal structures 100 years ago in Leeds. In Unit Cell, the x-rays are replaced by sound waves and the crystal is an array of 125 beach balls suspended in space. The viewer is immersed in a sound field, sometimes loud, sometimes quiet, that fills the space around the sculpture.
We were later invited to again show Unit Cell at the Bragg Centenary Lecture, Leeds University 2013