The View from Kalamazoo…in pictures

Ordered Universe team members (Giles, Nicola, Mike and Sarah), and colleagues from Durham University (Helen, Abi and Katie), made the journey from Montreal to Kalamazoo and then back to Toronto airport and home. We have a visual record here…from Quebec to Ontario to Michigan, the Kalamazoo Congress (and dance) and the Museum of Ontario Archeology and its recreation longhouse on the way home!

Movement(s) of the Middle Ages – McGill/Durham 2018

Last week, following the Ordered Universe symposium at McGill, various members of the team stayed on and enjoyed a second event with our friends in Montreal. Organised between Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and McGill University, we took part in a joint graduate conference on 7th May. Taking place at Continue reading

Illuminating Colour – Now Open

Last night saw the launch of Illuminating Colour, a new exhibition from Cate Watkinson and Colin Rennie at the National Glass Centre, University of Sunderland. The exhibition, as readers of this site will know, grew from a collaborative initiative with the Ordered Universe project, Through a Glass Darkly. The exhibition emerged from a series of meetings, collaborative readings, knowledge exchange sessions (learning about glass, living medieval manuscripts), glass-making, planning and exhibits within the Being Human Festival, all of which took place over the last 18 months. Students and staff from Durham, Sunderland and Oxford, as well as the international collaborators from Ordered Universe, have all taken part and contributed, Artists Alexandra Carr, Ross Ashton, Alan Fentiman and Rosie Reed Gold have also been involved from their different media expertise.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is Cate and Colin’s work. Taking Grosseteste’s treatises On Colour and On the Rainbow as the principal inspiration, alongside his thinking on light and other meteorological phenomena, the works have come together over the last year. It has been an enormous privilege to watch this happen, and, at some level, to have been involved. The imagination, craft, skill depth of experience and curiosity to experiment are both mind-blowing and inspiring. The exhibition dwells profoundly on Grosseteste’s statement that ‘Light is colour embodied in a transparent medium’. The end of that treatise, On Colour, invokes the fact that those who are especially skilled can manipulate the medium to make whatever colour they like. This description is applied justly to Cate and Colin, and the pieces they have created.

Illuminating Colour finishes on 11th March 2018, so there is plenty of time to come and visit, and what a reason (if any were needed), to come to the North-East. This is also only the beginning of the collaboration, so stay tuned for further cross-disciplinary exploration of the universe in which we live and how we explain and perceive it. The exhibition is supported by the University of Sunderland, the National Glass Centre, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Durham University and the Ordered Universe project. For those that couldn’t be there last night – some images and a periscope tour of the exhibits – but do come and see the real things!

 

 

Heritage Light in Oxford: Spiritus Projection

The Projection Studio, as part of their continued collaboration with the Ordered Universe, will be projecting Spiritus: Light and Dark, last seen at the Cambridge e-Luminate Festival 2017, in Oxford at the end of September, the evening of the 29th to be precise. The projection has been commissioned as part of this year’s Night of Heritage Light, organised by the Society of Light and Lighting, and will be projected onto the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (below). More details on the Night of Heritage Light are available. If you are in Oxford on the 29th this is not to be missed!

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Building Bridges, Connecting Arcs

A post by Joshua Harvey, D.Phil. student, Department of Engineering Science and Pembroke College, University of Oxford, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as part of ‘The Mental and Material Laboratories of Medieval Science’ project, under the aegis of the Ordered Universe.

Parry Arc
Halos featuring a Parry arc – photograph by Martina Wisotzki

The latest research article from the Ordered Universe project: “Bow-shaped caustics from conical prisms: a 13th Century account of rainbow formation from Robert Grosseteste’s De iride” is available to read now, open access at the Optical Society of America’s journal Applied Optics. Grosseteste’s treatise De iride [On Rainbows], which may be familiar to long-term followers of the Ordered Universe project, explores theoretical optics, colour theory, and meteorology to give one of the most comprehensive pre-renaissance scientific writings on the rainbow. With this most recent article, we explore his pioneering model of rainbow formation – the first to use refraction (and not just reflection) in medieval Europe. Through an interdisciplinary combination of historical review, geometric optics, and both practical and simulated experiment, we give a thorough overview of the historical significance of the De iride, and look at what lessons we can learn from it today.

This fruitful exploration has not been done before. Although Grosseteste provides a detailed description of what he believes are the geometric underpinnings of a rainbow, he has previously been disregarded in this area. David Lindberg even went so far as to say that ‘his theory of the rainbow could not account for even the most basic phenomena and has remained largely unintelligible to the modern day.’ Well, we thought there might have been more to Grosseteste’s thought than that, being familiar with his mathematical mind and keen curiosity about the natural world. As a research team with a diverse expertise, we together arrived at an interpretation of Grosseteste’s optical mechanism that was intelligible, elegant and, most excitingly, perfectly testable. To our surprise, the caustics – patterns of gathered light – produced by a transparent cone are just as Grosseteste describes.

Remarkably, we have already been contacted by researchers investigating atmospheric optics, who have found some striking correspondences between their own work and our interpretation of Grosseteste’s De iride. Markus and Sarah Selmke’s recent paper, “Artificial circumzenithal and circumhorizontal arcs” published in American Journal of Physics, explores to great depths the kinds of refractive optical interactions between transparent cones, as modelled by glassware filled with water, and incident light. The authors have shown that Parry arcs, a type of halo, are analogous to the caustics produced by shining light through a wine glass of water. Although not as frequently observed as rainbows, Parry arcs are similarly beautiful displays of dispersive colour seen in the heavens, providing certain atmospheric conditions are met. The paper features a combination of practical and mathematical experimentation, similar to our own approach in the Applied Optics paper, and states that “light entering through the top air-water interface and leaving through the lateral cone surface results in an analogy to Parry’s halo”. This is identical to Grosseteste’s geometric scheme, as we interpreted it. Although, to his detractors, his likening of a rainbow to that of light going through a transparent cone might sound crude, or even ridiculous, it appears this simple model does indeed capture the optical principles behind a dispersive atmospheric phenomenon.

Grosseteste was wrong about rainbows. Not long after him, rainbows were correctly understood to be produced by light interacting with near-spherical raindrops, by both Kamal al-Din al-Farisi and Theodoric of Freiburg in the fourteenth century. But Grosseteste was not wrong about the optical qualities of transparent cones, and although the optical scene he describes in De iride does not relate to rainbows, it is analogous to another kind of dispersive optical event seen in the heavens.

Of course, it would be incorrect to claim that Grosseteste had solved the mystery of Parry’s arc back in the thirteenth century. He had probably never seen or heard of one, as they are rare outside the Arctic circles, and it wasn’t until 1820 that William Parry observed and drew one. Was this mere coincidence, could Grosseteste have happened upon an atmospheric optical mechanism by chance? Perhaps. But it is worth bearing in mind that his theory was likely grounded in observation, and formulated to be as parsimonious as possible. I think that rather than chance, it is instead even clearer we are reading the work of someone with a scientific mind, curiosity about nature, and a belief in a profoundly ordered universe.

Joshua Harvey

Ordered Universe at Cambridge e-luminate – Spiritus: Light and Dark

An absolutely fantastic day in Cambridge on February 10th, with the launch of the e-luminate festival. Ordered Universe team members, Giles Gasper, Tom McLeish, Richard Bower, Hannah Smithson and Sebastian Falk presented the project, and interactive activities on medieval and modern science to the public at Great St Mary’s Church. With over 250 visitors to the displays we were very glad to support Ross Ashton and Karen Monid’s simply breathtaking projection show Spiritus: Light and Dark. This was a dazzling juxtaposition of medieval astronomical thought, modern cosmology, and a wonderful tribute to the scientific imaginations, of Grosseteste and his later successors, the contemplative beauty of music inspired by Hildgard of Bingen, and the artistry to bring all of these together in a bewitching sequence. If you are in Cambridge the show, and all of the others across the city (as well as other events around e-luminate) are on until the 15th Feb: it will be well worth the trip. Ordered Universe members were very grateful for the assistance too of Jinni Tang (Durham University) and Eleanor Puttock (Faraday Institute) in marshalling the exhibits and audiences, and to Rev. John Binns and the staff at Great St Mary’s. Astrolabes, the world of Robert Grosseteste, visualising the medieval cosmos, a modern oculus rift journey into dark matter, contemporary glasswork from the National Glass Centre, University of Sunderland, and optical experiments from the 13th century. We all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!

Images from Giles Gasper, Ross Ashton and Karen Monid

Medieval Physics in Oxford: Reflections by Brian Tanner

20150628_192910 (1)When Jo Ashbourn, Senior Tutor at St Cross College, Oxford asked me to summarize the proceedings at the end of a one day conference on Medieval Physics in Oxford, I responded enthusiastically. Several weeks later at the start of what proved to be an interesting day, I was less than certain that it had been a wise decision.

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Medieval Physics in Oxford

Jack Cunningham and Brian Tanner, core members of the Ordered Universe research team will be taking part in a fantastic looking conference organised by the Centre for the History and Philosophy of Physics at St Cross College in Oxford. The Centre under its Director Dr Jo Ashbourn is dedicated to the philosophy and methodologies of physics past and present, and its practitioners throughout history. The Centre is holding a one-day event on Saturday 27th February at St Cross on Medieval Physics in Oxford. Continue reading