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Wharton Center meshes art and science with Of Equal Place: Isotopes in Motion show

November 7, 2022
Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo. —
Photo by Courtesy Photo | The State News

On Sunday, Of Equal Place: Isotopes in Motion at the Wharton Center explored physics through dance, mimicking the motion of isotopes.

The dancers explored research taking place at the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, or FRIB, at MSU. With the goal of presenting science as an art form, the dancers wanted to combine hard mathematics and science in a medium that most audiences could relate to.

The FRIB uses a fragment separator to smash a beam of radioactive nuclei into a target to study the properties and the reactions that could happen to the nuclei.

Director of the Institute for the Arts and Creativity at the Wharton Center Bert Goldstein was approached by members of the MSU science community to create an arts piece that explained the facility and incorporated physics into a multimedia experience.

Goldstein reached out to the local dance studio Happendance and the Dance Exchange, who both have done science presentations. Dance Exchange, she said, involves the community.

“It's not just about their six or seven dancers coming in performing, packing up and leaving," Goldstein said. "They wanted a real integration into the community.”

They decided to perform a dance centered around science and conduct two workshops at the Wharton – one about the dance and one about the movement. The dancers' ages range from 16 to 72, integrating women and minorities in the physical sciences at MSU into the ensemble to encourage changing the face of STEM.

“They also created sections in the show about women in science," Goldstein said. "There's a whole section on Marie Curie and a whole series on other women's science, because one of our goals was to impress upon young women to encourage them to think about science.”

Goldstein said the choreographers took a lot of time to understand movement that would characterize atoms. As a result, they successfully replicated the process of physics, isotopes and stable and unstable isotopes.

Director of Creative Engagement Ami Dowden-Fant has been dancing since she was a child. She started with the Dance Exchange in 2009 when they started to do science presentations. MSU was the natural next step for them, she said.

“(Dance and physics) are actually very similar because it takes a lot of physics to make dance actually happen," Dowden-Fant said. "Watching and using the inspiration of the physicists, how they talk about them, how they show us their research, it all has motion in it.”

FRIB physicist Mallory Smith ran the hands-on science workshop. She planned to explain the FRIB in a simple way, with something a child could understand.

Smashing a beam into a target is a violent act that makes for intense dance moves. Smith said that the highlights of the workshop was for the participants to make something new and then see something destroyed.

Graduate student and FRIB employee Shane Waters saw the event as a way to reach into the community of science enthusiasts. Inspiring the next generation, he said, is his main goal.

Audience member Jenny Rasmussen brought her daughter to experience the event. She said that the event was palatable for those who don't want to sit in college lectures.

“It's a nice refresher for a lot of things I forgot since college, and for (my daughter) it's to smash things," Rasmussen said. "It’s refreshing, protons, nutrients, neutrons, what are isotopes and all of that, because it's been a really long time for me.”

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