Art and Chemistry

This POPcasso was a product from Art & Science Project created by Jailson Lima, Vanier College, Montreal, Quebec.  Lima is 2018 Chemical Institute of Canada Beaumier Award for excellence in teaching chemistry at the high school or CÉGEP level in Canada. In this issue of Chem 13 News magazine, read Lima's article describing his approach and art initiatives.   

Below is the artist of PoPcasso rationale for their design. 

Rationale for “POPcasso” (front cover)

KH, a.k.a Potassium Hydride.

Taken from The Art & Science Project website

Pablo Picasso was a Spanish painter known for his influential paintings, his ingenious use of cubism and for inventing the technique of constructed sculpture. He was an exceptional artist of his time and painted not what was admired by the world, but what he saw. He was an abstract painter, just as chemistry is a very abstract topic that comes in many shapes and explanations.

My painting is a mixture of chemistry and pop art with inspiration taken from Picasso. The molecule of CH4 is central because of its artistic symmetrical tetrahedral form. Pop art is used for its noticeable and eye-catching vibrant colours, having each quadrant a different colour from its neighbour. The canvas is split in straight edge shapes, with quadrants containing a part of the face (eyes, nose, lips and ears). When put together these form a portrait of a face whereas chemistry quadrants form the chemical bonding between carbon and hydrogen. The ideas found in the chemistry quadrants portray several of the big ideas by Peter Atkins. [See Art & Science Project website for all nine of Big Ideas in Chemistry.]

The first big idea is that matter is made of atoms. This is effectively seen as molecules in the artwork and coexist with the world suggested by the human portrait representing the world. Atomic makeup is also shown in the emission spectrum at the bottom left and just above, wave particle duality is represented coming out from the tetrahedral (the white dots demonstrate the particles).

The second big idea, that elements display periodicity, can be seen in the sizes of the atoms. The hydrogen molecules are the smallest atoms in the painting; neon and rubidium are both placed similarly on the periodic table. Carbon is shown as bigger than neon but smaller than rubidium. Each atom is surrounded by its given number of valence electrons.

The third big idea — chemical bonds are formed when electrons pair — is represented by many aspects in this painting. Firstly, in the top left corner, carbon has an electron configuration of 1s22s22p2, but in order to bond with the four hydrogens one electron of the 2s orbital is “promoted” to the 2p orbital to be able to make bonds resulting in a configuration of 1s22s12p3. The graph, to the right, has a red line demonstrating chemical bonds striving to achieve minimum potential energy. The large pink section demonstrates shared electrons and their dipole moments, where the same coloured arrows will cancel out. A shared bond is then formed, as shown in the small green section.

The fourth big idea is that molecular shape is a crucial feature in chemistry, represented as an sp3 orbital. Two tetrahedrals emphasize the painting’s symmetry, one in blue and one in yellow. In the middle, an exact angle of 109.5o describes the tetrahedral shape. At the bottom, in the orbital representation of CH4 they all share a white link, representing the sigma bonds between s-sp3. Next a 3-D representation of the chemical bond can be found.

The sixth idea of energy being conserved is represented by the emission spectrum. The light spectrum can be seen on the left where the eye looks through a prism that refracts light and gives colour.

The ninth idea — there are only four types of reaction — painting shows one type at the bottom — a combustion reaction (by the fire zigzags) between CH4 and O2

Many would like to argue that art and science are effectively two extremely different domains. One plays on the aspect of creativity, while the other depends on understanding how the world functions. But the truth is that the world revolves around both; one cannot live without the other. Chemistry and art play a bigger role than we could ever imagine.