JILA Fellow Cindy Regal has helped consult on a new mural placed in Washington Park in Denver, Colorado. The mural, titled Leading Light, loosely alludes to AMO physics, which Regal studies by using laser beams. With bright yellows and vivid pinks, the mural depicts four women interacting with different blue spheres, representing electrons. One woman wears sunglasses, modeled on the laser goggles that JILAns wear for lab safety. The artist, Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, found Regal's work captivating. “We share a vision to not only uplift women in STEM and to bring science and our society closer together, but also to foster dynamic and organic relationships with science in everyone, whether or not they choose to become scientists,” the artist said.
Regal and Phingbodhipakkiya were originally connected through the Heising- Simons Foundation. The Foundation funds Phingbodhipakkiya's mural series, called FINDINGS, a public art series dedicated to celebrating women and science. The mural not only uses shadows to inspire awe in the viewer but also incorporates bold colors to capture the attention. “We all need portals for discovery that invite us to follow our curiosity, and FINDINGS murals, like Leading Light do just that—with a vortex of color, movement, and figures of color harnessing their power to manipulate matter, just as scientists like Cindy are using light to manipulate matter,” Phingbodhipakkiya explained. This mural not only offers a whimsical and beautiful masterpiece to consider but also includes augmented reality (AR) aspects that a user can look at using the FINDINGS app on their phone. The app causes pieces of the mural to digitally move, teaching the viewer about the background of the mural.
For her part, Regal enjoyed helping her research be translated into an artistic medium. “I went down there in August when it was in process, and I met with Amanda and a small art group, and I even got to paint some tiny bits of the mural. I think I managed to stay in the lines,” Regal joked.
Regal worked closely with Phingbodhipakkiya to make sure the accuracy came through in the painting. “Amanda's process is to collaborate with scientists to incorporate bold ideas from different fields of science into the murals,” Regal explained. “And it was exciting to hear that atomic and quantum science in general could be brought to life in her current work.” According to Phingbodhipakkiya: “I consult my scientific partners first, before I make a single mark. It's crucial that we create a narrative together and the work maintains its scientific rigor while also sparking curiosity, imagination, and discovery.” In Leading Light, viewers can see atoms in 2D and 3D lattices, similar to ones studied by JILA Fellows like Regal.
Since being finished in August of 2021, the mural has gotten positive reviews, and raised interesting questions. “The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Phingbodhipakkiya said. “So many folks have expressed how moving it is to see figures like them represented so powerfully. But because FINDINGS murals also center on women of color, there are always the occasional ‘Where are the men?’ and other racist comments. This tension is important because without these questions and conversations about equity and justice, there is no change. And I am proud that we are bringing these conversations into communities where they need to happen.”
You can find out more about FINDINGS and the other murals here.
Written by Kenna Castleberry, JILA Science Communicator