Perception of the Extreme Unseen

Visual Logistics and Representation of Subatomic Particle Matter and Energy


Jan-Henrik Andersen

Particle Designer


Jean Paul Slusser Gallery, University of Michigan, School of Art & Design

February 13 through March 13 2004





By using the simple equation of a super ellipse, based on a Lamé curve; (x/a) m +(y/b) m=1, where a and b are the size of the major and minor axes (positive real numbers), and m is a rational number, and by mirroring and rotating this curve in space, I generated an ellipsoid, which in combination with its own curvature creates all the forms on display.


The exhibition shows visual representation of the basic particle groups; the Fermions (Quarks and Leptons) and Bosons. In addition there are examples of the visual representation of supersymmetric particles, the Graviton and Higgs boson.

The 38 images are mid size and large digital ink on canvas and art paper. There are also some smaller works in rapid prototyping and bronze. All the works were created using a computer NURBS modeler with radiocity rendering in displayed size 1:1.


The nature of the work is to lift the veil on the optically impossible task of visually observing subatomic particles by translating their properties and behavior, known as the Standard Mode of subatomic physics, into a coherent visual three-dimensional language.

Since no one has ever seen, nor will anyone ever see anything as small as a Quark or a Neutrino, one could argue that they could look like anything, if they have ³looks² at all. But their properties and behavior can offer the basis for a rational discussion of their visual presence. Unfortunately this is not enough, since one can¹t say with any certainty that there is only one visual solution to how one represents properties like spin, mass, charge, or color.

My proposal is to represent the particles visual context where these properties represents the syntax, and then work to reflect the meaning of the properties as visual elements within an order. According the physics there is nothing smaller than these particles, - they are the bottom line of anything and everything.  Yet they occur in multitudes as they form groups and subgroups, parities and symmetries, antiparticles and supersymmetries, they decay from one state to another, changing properties, and they move very fast.


The following statements constituted the primary premises of my visual problem;

All the forms must be generated by one simple visual element, the particles must have the same form yet be different; there must be logic coherence between the particles according to the categorizations and decay patterns of the Standard Model. Finally, their spin in combination with great directional velocity requires a multi directional visual quality as illustrated above.


The exhibition is the result of 3 years of collaboration between the Physics Department initiated by Associate Dean Sherri Smith, and supported by Dean Rogers in the School of Art and Design.

I would like to thank Office of the Vice President for Research and Dean Rogers for their financial support, my colleagues, in particular Professors Dennis Miller for his graphic design and typography (this very font: ³Subatomic²), Sherri Smith and Dwayne Overmyer for their support, help and constructive critique. Sincere thanks to Lenee Lane, Lois Kane, and of course to my colleagues Professors Gordon Kane and David Gerdes in the Physics Department of University of Michigan.  Thanks also to the help from Studio Coordinators Ken Brown in sculpture and David Liske in the digital print shop, and the rest of the schools great support and exhibition staff.


Jan-Henrik Andersen




Images from the exhibition opening

Slusser Gallery

Exhibition flyer in Adobe Acrobat

List of exhibited images and objects