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Department of Physics


The World Machine at Lumiere 2015

Shedding light on the Universe

The World Machine

The World Machine

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Find out how Durham University students worked together with leading academics to create the stunning simulations used in The World Machine, a collaboration between artists, cosmologists, historians, and philosophers, charting the birth of modern cosmology, taking viewers on a journey through the stars and galaxies.

Research by Durham University into the origins, evolution and understanding of the Universe is lighting up one of the world’s most iconic buildings.

Stunning images of the cosmos will be projected on to Durham Cathedral, on the City’s World Heritage Site, as part of Lumiere, the UK’s largest light festival, from Thursday 12 to Sunday 15 November.

Called The World Machine, this multi-media projection is a collaboration between artists, cosmologists, historians, and philosophers and charts the birth of modern cosmology, taking viewers on a journey through the stars and galaxies.

The World Machine incorporates the high-powered and immensely accurate computer simulations of the Universe produced by Durham University’s world-leading Institute for Computational Cosmology (ICC).

“The World Machine is a true collaboration crossing the boundaries of science, mathematics, music and art. There are no boundaries for human knowledge.”

Professor Richard Bower, Institute for Computational Cosmology and The Ordered Universe Project.

In particular it draws upon the work of the EAGLE (Evolution and Assembly of GaLaxies and their Environments) project, an international collaboration led by Durham University simulating how galaxies form and evolve in precise detail.

It also uses computer simulations and images of medieval manuscripts from The Ordered Universe Project which brings together cosmologists, physicists, psychologists, Latin experts and medieval historians to explore the theories that 13th Century Bishop Robert Grosseteste held about the evolution of the Universe.

“The Ordered Universe project is thrilled to be involved in The World Machine - a phrase from Grosseteste - and to share the deep wonderment of medieval people in the longer story of human fascination with the Universe and our modern understanding.”

Dr Giles Gasper, Principal Investigator, The Ordered Universe Project.

In doing so The World Machine takes visitors on a journey from the Big Bang to our place in the modern Universe.

In between it looks at:

  • Grosseteste’s theories on light and its interaction with matter;
  • Simulations of dark matter, the mysterious web-like structure that scientists believe binds the Universe together;
  • Supercomputer recreations of galaxy formation which mimic the details of galaxies in our observed Universe;
  • Black holes that feed on their surrounding matter and effect the evolution of the Universe by regulating the growth of most massive galaxies.

The World Machine has been created by artist Ross Ashton in collaboration with Professor Carlos Frenk, Director of the ICC; Professor Richard Bower of the ICC and The Ordered Universe Project; and Dr Giles Gasper, The Ordered Universe Project’s Principal Investigator, Department of History.

The project also involves sound designer John del’Nero and composer Isobel Waller-Bridge. Postgraduate students and an undergraduate student from the ICC have also worked on the simulations that make up the artwork.

Image of a simulation

Led by Professor Carlos Frenk, the ICC is an internationally-renowned centre for research into the origin and evolution of the Universe, attracting leading researchers and the best students from around the world to Durham.

It’s hoped that the simulations of the ICC will form the basis of further outreach work in the future and could be displayed at planetariums and science exhibitions to encourage a new generation of scientists to find out more about our cosmic origins.

The Ordered Universe Project brings together physicists, psychologists, cosmologists, Latin experts and medieval specialists, to study the texts of Grosseteste, one-time Bishop of Lincoln, and using the all this expertise to explore his ideas, including modern mathematical and computational techniques. The project to examine Grosseteste’s medieval scientific theories is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council until 2019.

“The ICC exists to unravel the mysteries of our Universe, to learn how it came to be, why it looks like it does today and what it’s ultimate fate might be. The World Machine helps us to engage more people in this fascinating area of science.”

Professor Carlos Frenk, Director of the Institute for Computational Cosmology

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