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Artwork inspired by gravitational wave discovery

24 November 2016

Gravitational Wave - Artwork
© Penelope Cowley

A large oil painting inspired by the first ever detection of gravitational waves is to be unveiled at Cardiff University.

Penelope Cowley, a local artist who specialises in bringing art and science together, will present her work at the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy, along with a video showcasing a unique artistic spin on the discovery.

The painting combines a visualisation of data taken from the equipment used to detect the first gravitational waves along with an imagination of some of the celestial bodies that are responsible for creating these waves, such as binary black holes and neutron stars.

The video was created in collaboration with Dr Chris North and Ed Fauchon-Jones, as well as sound engineer Jason Charles Rogers, and includes the actual ‘chirp’ of the gravitational wave that was detected.

First proposed by Albert Einstein in 1916, gravitational waves are tiny ripples in space-time that are emitted throughout space as a result of extremely violent cosmic events.

Researchers from the School of Physics and Astronomy played an integral part in the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) collaboration that detected a gravitational wave for the first time last September.

Over the last two decades they have pioneered the methods that were used to make the first detections.

Commenting on the artwork, Penelope said: “I was inspired by the sheer overwhelming immensity of this discovery and after discussions with several members of staff at the University I thought it would be fantastic to create an artwork that celebrated this momentous event in our history..."

“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.”

Penelope Cowley Artist

Cardiff University’s Professor Mark Hannam, a member of the LIGO team, said: “Nature has always inspired our imaginations, and challenged artists to capture its beauty..."

"Penny's incredible work opens up a whole new way or imagining, seeing, and hearing, the first measurements of gravitational waves."

Professor Mark Hannam School of Physics and Astronomy

Penelope has previously created artwork inspired by magnetism work undertaken at the School of Physics and Astronomy, and has also been involved in projects with Cardiff University’s Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC).

The artwork will be unveiled in the Gallery Coffee Area at Cardiff University’s School of Physics and Astronomy on 25 November between 4 and 6pm. For more info go to:

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