Dr. Regina Valluzzi, SB 1989, is both a polymers scientist and an artist. Her art incorporates elements of materials science (including equations and molecular models) as well as using principles of optics and refraction.
One of her paintings, Density of States, is currently on view in 6-103. She hopes it will be the first of a series of loaned paintings that will foster a dialogue between artists and materials scientists. Please make a point of stopping by to see the painting.
Density of States, Regina Valluzzi
Oil over acrylic with glass beads and metal foil. A combination of traditional painting, paint dripping, and cake decorating techniques were used to create the textures in the piece.
36 × 36 × 1.5 inches
Density of states is an important concept in the quantum mechanics of molecules. If there are a lot of electrons and there are continuous “paths” of energy states to delocalize the electrons, useful electronic, magnetic, and optical properties etc will often result.
A good bit of materials chemistry, organometallic chemistry, and inorganic chemistry involves tweaking electron densities and densities of states.
This important set of properties is represented in the background of the painting. The grid pattern produced by dripping paint is reminiscent of both graph paper and quantized energy levels, and the movement in the colors alludes to the “movement” between levels in a transition. The jagged linear pattern of crossing zig zags is an artist’s abstraction of many of the molecular density of states plots found in the technical literature. Equations from density functional theory and the Hartree-Fock model act as both expository text and as linear contrasting textures in the background.
The depiction of the molecules works with the style of the background textures to convey both the structured passion and irreverent creative glee involved in the discovery, synthesis, and proof of these “holy grails” of chemistry. I've always thought the "Eureka" moment in synthesis was a little bit Disco, and I've tried to retain that mix of intensity, discovery, and dance-dance-fever in the attitude of the painting.
As a Polymer Scientist, I've attempted to make organic molecules do more interesting things. I have known and followed a number of researchers who also wanted to make organic molecules that could somehow mimic inorganic properties. Oftentimes we get the geometry right and create long paths for electron delocalization, but the optical, electronic, thermal, or magnetic properties don't quite fall into place. I was discussing this with an Inorganic Chemist, who pointed out that there just wasn't a high enough density of states - not enough electrons around - to make some of these approaches work really well.
I've noticed that often we become so focused on the models and intellectual schemes from our own branches of science that we can fail to connect the dots between pretty obvious concepts. This tendency to get focused, and then a bit stuck in a groove, is exactly why Materials Science and other deeply interdisciplinary branches of science are so very necessary.