Particle physics-inspired art installation opens in London

The installation, ‘Covariance’, is housed beneath the London Canal Museum, King’s Cross, and will open to the public on Saturday 24 August.

Commissioned by the Institute of Physics (IOP), it is the outcome of an exciting partnership between physicist Dr Ben Still of Queen Mary’s School of Physics and Astronomy, and artist Lyndall Phelps. It is the first project in the IOP’s artists-in-residence programme, Superposition.

Phelps, an installation artist with an interest in science, was inspired by Dr Still’s description of the work being undertaken at Super-Kamiokande, a detector and part of the T2K experiment in Japan. Upon learning about the scale and intricacy of Super-Kamiokande, Phelps explains: “My preconception that particle physics might be a tad dry and abstract was shattered, replaced by the promise of poetry and rich sensory experiences.”

Created from 1 km of brass rods, 28,000 glass beads, hundreds of acrylic discs and 36,000 diamantes, ‘Covariance’ is suspended in a circular brick space – about 30 feet in diameter – underneath the museum.

On seeing the final artwork, Dr Still said: “The installation sneaks up on you, you feel like you have discovered your own active particle detector. The surroundings, regular structure, and colour palette reflect the role of particle detectors and the data they record in the most visually grasping way.”

“As you descend the ladder, the environment changes – it’s darker, cooler, sounds are different; you do feel like you’re entering a true subterranean world,” adds Phelps, on the artwork’s location in the former ice well.

She says: “The finished work is everything I had hoped for and more, it takes my breath away! The sheer beauty and magic of ‘Covariance’ has made the months of intricate hand-made construction worthwhile.”

The installation reflects the way data from detectors is read by physicists – from the coloured dot diagrams physicists use today to the female ‘computers’ employed in the past.

The installation, discussions and thoughts of Dr Still and Phelps form an important part of the IOP’s Superposition project. The results have been captured on a blog to expose the artistic processes and their interplay with the science:

Caitlin Watson, Head of Public Engagement at IOP, said, “I’m thrilled with what Lyndall and Ben have created from their conversations over the past nine months. Lyndall’s artwork is truly awesome and captures the elegance and allure of physics in a way that will inspire visitors to have their own conversations about physics.”

For more information about the T2K experiment and the work of Queen Mary’s Neutrino Group, visit

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