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Science and art come together for 'Alchemical Worlds’

A collaboration led by University of Wollongong (UOW) artists and researchers is bringing together contemporary art, climate science and new generation materials science for an exhibition now on show at Wollongong Art Gallery.

Dr Jo Law, Dr Agnieszka Golda and Dr Sepidar Sayyer (left to right)

Supported by the UOW Global Challenges Program, the artwork titled 'Alchemical Worlds' was brought to life by Dr Agnieszka Golda and Dr Jo Law, in collaboration with artist Martin Johnson. The instalment also saw further input from climate scientist A/Professor Helen McGregor, filmmaker Dr Aaron Burton and ANFF Materials’ very own research fellow Dr Sepidar Sayyar.

Dr Sayyar, who previously worked with Drs Golda and Law in 2018 on ‘Spinning World’, applied the smart components to the new instalment in the form of graphene, doing so in an eco-friendly way whilst adding his expertise as a materials scientist.

To find out more about 'Alchemical Worlds' and the collaboration, we caught up with Dr Sayyar.

What was your involvement in the exhibition?

I developed conducting smart components using graphene through eco-friendly approaches for the artwork. The synthesis and development of materials for this work were to be as green as possible, making it a challenging part of the project.

From a material scientist point of view, how can you explain ‘Alchemical Worlds’?

‘Alchemical Worlds’ is a great artwork that demonstrates, in an artistic way, how collaboration between art and science can promote ecological awareness. For me personally, ‘Alchemical Worlds' provided a great opportunity to apply my knowledge of synthesis and material engineering in areas that are quite new for me, such as art and ecology, to promote effective sustainable energy strategies.

This builds on your previous work with Drs Agnieszka Golda and Jo Law for ‘Spinning World’. How did this new collaboration come about?

The outcome of the ‘Spinning World’ was great. We all gained valuable experience through that collaboration. So we thought it is time to take our research to the next level.

For ‘Spinning World’, I synthesised a graphene ink with minimum usage of toxic and hazardous chemicals. However, there was still room for improvement. This time around, my aim was to develop a thermosensitive graphene ink without using any acids and hazardous/toxic chemicals. I made this happen by utilising a facile mechanochemical method.

The exhibition interweaves art and science. How do the two come together?

It may not look so but actually, art and science can be highly correlated! What materials scientists are developing in labs are artworks, and artists create art using science. The exhibition demonstrated this fact in a creative way. ‘Alchemical Worlds’ highlighted the ties between art and science using textile art and smart materials to provide practical tools for ecological awareness.

You contributed graphene to the exhibition in a unique way. How else could you see such materials used going forward?

Graphene is called a “wonder material” by scientists because of its remarkable properties. Owing to its unique properties, you can find graphene in use in almost every field these days from making flexible electronics to facilitating biomedical research. Considering that smart materials are playing an increasingly important role in our everyday life, graphene and similar conducting nano-fillers will play a pivotal role in the development of smart materials in the future.

What was your reaction when you saw the artwork when it was complete?

It is really exciting when you see the outcome of your research come to life and have a great impact as well as being welcomed by the community. But it is just the beginning!

Thanks for your time, Sepidar – and well done!

‘Alchemical Worlds’ is now on exhibition at Wollongong Art Gallery from 22 May to 15 August.

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