Gottes(teilchen)dämmerung

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Being friends with physicists is dangerous business. Apart from the normal hazards of hanging out with the wrong crowd, like picking up on the jargon and ending up in interesting places, I’ve mysteriously acquired new hobbies. A worrying familiarity with Dirac delta functions is one thing, but I’ve found myself getting up to strange things at stranger hours — like spending all night graphing pursuit curves, or deciding that the best way to fill the post-finals pre-labwork lull would be to make block prints of the primary Higgs production mechanisms.

(Fortunately this particular wrong crowd isn’t the sort that would make my mother sigh and despair for my future. My chances at a reasonable bedtime, on the other hand…)

An intrepid reader might note that Feynman diagrams aren’t kraken, polyhedra, flying buttresses, knotwork, Moorish tiling, or any of my other usual artistic haunts. I’ve recently run into a problem where my minimalist tendencies directly conflict with my wanting to make non-digital art: I can only fit so many things on my walls, and I don’t have much space to stash a portfolio. If I make art and pawn it off on other people, though, then I get to make pretty things and I don’t have to store them. Win-win.

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Because I knew I was giving this to a friend, I had a chance to work with colors that didn’t coordinate with my room — something outside of blue, grey, copper, silver, and red. I pulled colors from an existing print, NASA’s “Explorers Wanted” poster, and ended up going with orange, red, turquoise, and purple. Definitely not my usual palette!

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There are four primary Higgs production mechanisms: gluon fusion, top associated production, Higgsstrahlung, and vector boson fusion. None of the diagrams I found online fit nicely in a square, so I ended up cutting out 5” squares of paper and re-drawing each of the diagrams to properly fill the space. I traced the diagrams onto squares of linoleum using the elementary-school shade-the-back-of-the-paper-with-graphite method, then used a v-shaped gouge to cut out the lines. Since this was my first time making block prints, getting the lines deep enough was a matter of trial and error. The last block I made definitely has crisper lines than the first one.

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It took more than a few tries to get a clear print, and my room was pretty quickly covered in drying not-quite-perfect attempts. Once I got the hang of it (and once I learned that you press the paper onto the linoleum, not the linoleum onto the paper) it went pretty smoothly — with only a few disruptions of the feline sort.

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After I had four prints that turned out well, I trimmed the edges to size and used some scrap foamboard to raise them off the backing paper. Getting all four prints properly spaced and centered proved to be a minor nightmare, so I cut a jig out of some more foamboard and used that to align them.

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All in all, I’m very happy with how they turned out. It was a nice introduction to block printing and a nice break from academics — and one that I don’t have to figure out where to store! (I suppose there are a few perks to being friends with physicists.)

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