Since its founding in 2016, Beauty of Science has worked alongside artists and scientists to create engaging visual content that inspires interest in science. In 2017, PetaPixel featured the work of Chinese scientific artist Wenting Zhu, who captured mesmerizing chemical reactions on camera. Zhu is back with another stunning project, Midnight Radiance.
Zhu’s multi-faceted project Midnight Radiance comprises timelapse photography and handmade crafts. The timelapse portion of the project showcases the “flowing nature” of various organic compounds as they crystallize and grow. The crystals spread and expand like plants, exhibiting in extreme clarity some of the most basic forms of nature. Zhu’s crafts represent “solidified nature,” with the crystals solidifying within glass containers and becoming pieces of art people can touch.
Zhu, from Hefei, China, named the project “Ye Liu li,” which roughly refers to “night” and “a variety of colors and translucent crystals.”
“Midnight Radiance is a sci-art project created using the principle of crystallization. Crystallization is a natural process in which atoms, ions, or molecules arrange themselves in repeating three-dimensional patterns to form crystals under the action of electromagnetic forces,” Zhu tells PetaPixel.
“In the video, you will see some crystals growing like plants, it is dendritic growth. Dendritic growth is a type of crystal growth pattern that resembles a branching tree, and it’s the result of the interplay between thermal and diffusion forces in the material, as well as the geometrical constraints of the crystal growth front,” explains Zhu.
PetaPixel asked about the compounds Zhu used. “By mixing different organic compounds in various proportions to create saturated solutions and pouring them into glass containers, crystals gradually form and grow as the water evaporates. During the crystallization process, I had different types of pigments. These pigments not only add color but also impact the formation of the crystals due to their complex compositions,” Zhu says.
Beyond the added pigments, other factors affect the growth rate of the crystals, including temperature, humidity, and impurities in the compounds. Zhu says that sometimes crystals grow in a day or two, while other times, the process takes up to a month. Zhu adjusts the timelapse photography interval according to the speed of the crystal growth rate, with intervals ranging from five seconds to half a minute.
Zhu tells PetaPixel that the crystals look most vivid and vibrant against black backgrounds and under LED lighting. The entire project uses visible spectrum light, and all the colors that are visible in the video and photos are due to the added pigments.
Achieving beautiful crystals is less of an exact science and more a result of good fortune. Because few good pieces have been made yet, Zhu says that handmade art pieces are not yet available. However, Beauty of Science is exploring their options to sell them in the future.
Beauty of Science and Midnight Radiance specifically offer viewers a fascinating combination of art and science.
“Both art and science require creativity, curiosity, and a desire to explore and understand the world around us,” Zhu explains. “I hope to create visually stunning works that convey scientific concepts and spark interest and curiosity in the viewer.”
“Beauty of Science aims to showcase the beauty and wonder of science through visually stunning works of art. We believe that art can help people to see the beauty and creativity in science and to appreciate the role that science plays in our daily lives,” Zhu continues.
Midnight Radiance features many diverse crystals of a wide range of colors. PetaPixel struggled to pick a specific favorite. However, Zhu has two.
“I prefer the green one (Spring Awakening) and the pink one (Rosy Reflection) because of their delicate texture, like brocade.”
Zhu’s project encapsulates much of Beauty of Science’s mission and goals.
“Midnight Radiance aims to present complex scientific concepts in a beautiful and simple form, showcasing not only the beauty of science but also making it easier for the audience to understand and engage with complex ideas. It hopes to inspire people’s curiosity and appreciation for the natural world. This is also related to the overall mission of Beauty of Science, which is to bridge the gap between science and art, create captivating works of art, and inspire people’s love of science.”
Additional Midnight Radiance images are available on the Beauty of Science website. Wenting Zhu’s work is also featured in the Envisioning Chemistry project that was created in collaboration with Beauty of Science.
Beauty of Science was founded by Dr. Yan Liang, who spearheaded Beautiful Chemistry, an incredible sci-art project that PetaPixel featured in 2014.
Image credits: Beauty of Science / © Wenting Zhu