The idea of Quark Park is to create collaborations between artists and scientists, leading to an artistic work that reflects, or is inspired by, the scientist’s work. We have been working with a talented sculptor named Kate Graves, who came up with a wonderful idea: she created a stone table incorporating a board for the African game, Mankala. (You can learn the rules here.) This ancient game, played with pebbles, reminds us of our relationship to stone over the ages, and of our expectation that stone endures.
In fact, carved stone has a natural life cycle that includes maturity (development of a patina) and degradation, but the process can be accelerated by salts, acid rain, and other aggressive agents. The goal of our research is to minimize the damage from such agents by identifying the molecular basis of the mechanisms by which they act, and developing treatments that block them. In the design of Kate’s table, the texture of the stone ranges from a raw, fresh-cut surface on one end to a finished, polished surface on the other. This represents the transformation of the raw material into a mature work of art. To link this idea to our research, we have arranged to put the legs of the table into contact with a solution of a salt (sodium sulfate) that is a common cause of damage to buildings and monuments. The solution will be drawn into the stone by capillary suction (as liquid is absorbed into a sponge), then the water will evaporate and the salt will be deposited inside the porous stone. One of the legs will deteriorate from the pressure exerted by the salt, but the other will be protected by a treatment (polyacrylic acid) that we have developed in our lab.
Come to the park to see Kate’s creation, play Mankala, and judge whether our protective treatment is effective!
Kate and I are indebted to Ayami Aoyama for help with cutting and carving the table, to David Robinson of Natural Edge (Trenton, NJ) for providing stools and benches, to Joe Vocaturo for his help with the design and fabrication of the support structure, to John Valenza and Megan McNall for applying the polyacrylic acid treatment, and to my whole group for helping with the installation.