Interview Questions from Richard Bright (Editor: Interalia Magazine)
Richard Bright: Can we begin by you saying something about your background?
Asier Marzo: I studied Computer Science in Pamplona (Spain) and completed my PhD across Pamplona, Bordeaux (France) and Bristol (United Kingdom). In my PhD, I conducted research in Educational Videogames, Augmented Reality and at the end in Acoustic Levitation. I really enjoy programming but I found very hard to do research on it. Currently, I am focused on ways in which waves (either light or sound) can manipulate matter, programming is a vital tool for this research.
RB: You are an artist as well as being an academic in the field of mechanical engineering. How do these two worlds combine?
AM: I have worked with lots of artists but I would not call myself an artist. Art could be defined as the creation of beauty without an obvious purpose. At the same time, most of the best solutions in engineering are described as beautiful. This quest for finding beautiful solutions seems to be fundamental for both artists and scientists.
RB: Your work is included in the exhibition Sci-Art Synergy, at the RUH, Bath. What do you understand by the term ‘sci-art synergy’?
AM: I understand that it is possible to do better science if guided by the artistic process and that it is possible to create beautiful works of art using science. When I am looking for a solution or for an interesting research project I try to look at things from different angles and iterate different solutions several times, you also use your intuition. So even when people think that science follows a well-establish method sometimes it feels more like an artistic process in which you cannot play by the book, in which you should be testing as many things as possible and looking for a solution that satisfies you in a deeper lever, not just that it works.
RB: Can you say something about your work, Secret Signature, which is included in this exhibition?
AM: It is a type of fractal. A fractal is a structure or image of infinite resolution (we can zoom in or out as much as we want) with patterns that are repeated at different scales. One of the most popular fractals is the Mandelbrot set. The Mandelbrot set contains the complex points (C) that satisfy the purely mathematical condition of not escaping to infinity when iterated as (Zn+1 = Zn^2 + C).
In Secret Signature, a modification of the set named Buddhabrot is presented. The orbits that the points made while iterated are drawn instead of the points themselves. What I found really interesting about the result is that it looks very organic and “non-synthetic”. I enjoyed the idea that engineers and physicist use mathematics as the language to describe reality even when the foundations of mathematics are thought to be independent of our existence. That is, other intelligent creatures would eventually develop a system equivalent to our mathematics. In some sense, when we prove new mathematical theorems we are discovering pre-existing entities.
RB: Do you have any specific examples where scientific thinking have helped to guide your artistic explorations? And vice versa?
AM: We know the formulae that describe electromagnetic or acoustic fields and even how they interact with matter. What I always try to do is to visualize these fields with different methods and composition techniques in order to get an intuitive interpretation of their complex structure and behaviour. The resulting images are inherently beautiful and keep you wanting to know how they look from different angles or under different conditions. So in that sense, the artistic pursue of beauty has fostered my scientific exploration.
RB: Can you say something about your work manipulating particles using ultrasound and the ‘tractor beam’ project you are involved in?
AM: Ultrasound is a mechanical wave and as such it carries momentum, this is why a wave in the beach can push you or why you feel vibrations when the music is loud. With that in mind, it is not that surprising that you can move and even levitate particles with sound. If sound emitters surround the particle from all directions the particle gets trapped and levitates in mid-air. A tractor beam is a little bit more complicated since it levitates particles with a single-sided emitter, moreover it can pull the particles towards the source. We achieve this by using lots of tiny speakers that emit different waves that get combined into a 3D sound field that surrounds the particle, it is like a hologram but made of sound instead of light. Moving particles with ultrasound has the advantages of supporting a wide variety of materials (blood, chemical solutions or metals) and sizes (a marble, a fly or cells). Also, the manipulation can be done with incredible accuracy and without contaminating the sample.
RB: Collaboration between the arts and sciences has the potential to create new knowledge, ideas and processes beneficial to both fields. Do you agree with this statement?
AM: Absolutely, in my exploration and design of new devices and techniques I can learn a lot from artists and their creative process. You can have many solutions to a problem but you should focus on the most “beautiful” solution. This solution is simple, effective and above all, a point of view never used to solve the problem. In this regard I still need to learn a lot from artists.
Asier Marzo was born in 1986 in Pamplona (Spain) he studied Computer Science in the Public University of Navarre (Spain). Across his PhD he researched in Mobile Applications for Education, Augmented Reality and finally in Acoustic Levitation. Currently, he works as a Research Assistant at Bristol University (United Kingdom). His research interests are to achieve individual acoustic manipulation of thousands of objects for tissue engineering or novel displays as well as to bring acoustic levitation to the general public.
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