Monday, June 29, 2009

[Yasmin_discussions] Artists and atoms: fission and fusion

Dear All,

As our YASMIN discussion for June winds down, I'd like to thank everyone for
the stimulating ideas.

The main point I will take away from this concern mostly the prevalence of
negative images of nuclear fusion (bombs, reactors) that frame much of the
public's perception. This is despite the uses of nuclear isotopes, as
Gabrielle notes, for medical applications, an idea which dates back to
Ernest Lawrence's cyclotrons of the 1930s. This makes me wonder about the
uphill path projects like ITER might have to take if they are going to
convince the public that fusion/fission projects, et al. are safe and
desirable as well as scientifically interesting.

One thing that I don't think came up - with discussions about how to store
nuclear waste long-term - what are ways in which artists have been called
upon to provide signs and symbols to make it clear what is buried deep in
the ground at a site like Yucca Mountain in Nevada 1000 years from now?

I also found it interesting that our discussions unfolded in the context of
North Korea's second nuclear test as well as political upheaval in Iran, a
near-nuclear state (the idea of which brings up the whole question of what
does it mean for a nation to become a "nuclear state.")

While I knew something about art mobilized to promote and protest the atom
in the United States, I remain interested in what these images looked like
in other contexts - UK, France, India, China, and especially the USSR during
the Cold War.

Finally, the emergence of discussion about representing atoms at the
nanoscale was an interesting albeit surprising turn. But people who study
public perceptions of risk often draw parallels to fears about environmental
and health issues around nanoscale materials to earlier worries about
nuclear maybe this topic has more mileage to go.

W. Patrick McCray
Professor &
Co-PI/Executive Committee Member for the
UCSB Center for Nanotechnology in Society

Department of History
University of California, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9410
TEL: 805.893.2665

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