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Walking With Scientists

Walking With Scientists

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Published by sarah9717
Catalogue of the exhibition showing jewellery from research carried out at The University of Manchester into laser processing on titanium. Part of the Ars Ornata Europeana conference Inside Out
The Manchester Museum
Catalogue of the exhibition showing jewellery from research carried out at The University of Manchester into laser processing on titanium. Part of the Ars Ornata Europeana conference Inside Out
The Manchester Museum

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Published by: sarah9717 on Mar 10, 2010
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Sarah O’Hana

Walking with Scientists
Between two cultures : a dialogue in jewellery “Attempts to divide anything into two should be regarded with much suspicion”
C. P. Snow Artists are natural researchers. We are constantly in the process of investigation and enquiry using a multitude of media. We acquire an extraordinary understanding of materials thanks to systematic experimentation with them, leaning beyond boundaries and uncovering truths at every stage. Jewellery artists are responsible for the direct implementation of this knowledge, engaging in their practice all manner of organic and inorganic materials, listening to them and constructing with them three-dimensional artefacts with awesome results. It is the same unbelievable logic that enables engineers to build impossible distances into the sky whilst allowing concrete to move. How different are we to scientists or engineers? Over the last two years I have had the privilege to work with artist Kalsang Shoba in the Laser Processing Research Centre at The University of Manchester’s School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering. Our main objective has been to explore creative ways of using lasers, understanding something about the way they work and report back to the world of art practice and contemporary jewellery. This publication offers a glimpse into that journey and accompanies the exhibition at The Museum of Manchester. It aims to unfold the multiplicity of an emergent, hybrid practice that has demanded a new language mutually understood by the cultures of art and design and of engineering and science. Perhaps what is unusual about this exhibition is the angle of insight it gives the viewer about life in an engineering research laboratory. Whilst engineers are looking for new methods of improved manufacture for clients such as Rolls Royce and the nuclear industry, scientists seek to understand the phenomena involved, largely unaware that an artist is working amongst them, observing their behaviour and their language but, more importantly, seeing with fascination the experiments, the visual and factual material emerging from their research. From centres like this one, the jewellery and silversmithing industries have benefited from laser welding, cutting and marking, rapid prototyping, laser forming, and now direct manufacturing of three dimensional form by laser sintering of metal powders.

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My own research pivots around the use of laser on titanium. Heat from the applied laser beam causes an oxide layer to grow on the surface of the metal, which, depending on the thickness, appear as different colours to the eye. The colour can be controlled by using different laser parameters such as the speed, power and pulse density of the beam. To render the technology more invisible and to narrow the distance between it and the more intuitive aspects of my work, drawings are sometimes converted to bitmaps for a less calculated, more ‘painterly’ aesthetic. What started as an investigation into laser processing for the creative industries has become more a mission to charter this relatively unknown territory, crystallising the astounding visual and anecdotal influences encountered on the way, all of them treasured gems that I hope will offer a positive contribution to the current art/science debate. For this reason I have also profiled the work of some engineers and scientists working in the LPRC. Dr. Amin Abdolvand, an applied physicist, observes the formation of metallic nanoparticles embedded in various media. Mechanical engineer Dr. Andrew Pinkerton creates three-dimensional parts by fusing metal powders with a laser beam, offering a glimpse into the development of direct manufacturing. The influence of Dr. Marc Schmidt and Dr. Philip Crouse is less clear but perhaps more appropriately, exists below the visible surface.

After renegotiating historical preconceptions on both sides, a curious state of equilibrium has settled itself quite naturally. It was clear that I had much to learn from this aerospatial environment, particularly with my lifelong curiosity in titanium, but how to persuade this deeply formuleic culture that they stand to gain as much from the art and design one? How different is a drawing from a formula, a sketchbook from a lab book? Is there a need for an equation to explain the theory of creativity? This journey does not set out to establish superiority of one expression over another, but calls for collaboration from both angles in order that our vision is more complete. The work presented here is a set of dual nationality passports aiming to attract the attention of both disciplines or better still, to encourage a new one to rise. I am indebted to Dr. Andrew Gale and Professor Lin Li for their invaluable support and continued interest in this project. Perhaps we can already see a spot of green light ahead on the substrate of a new culture...



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Sarah O’Hana, Jewellery artist
The University of Manchester


When asked to write ‘a bit’ about Sarah, the one thing that stood out to me was her ability to mould a symbiotic relationship in whatever project she is currently wading through, usually numbering somewhere in the vicinity of 1012. Her curious ‘knack’ for bringing together practitioners from different backgrounds and establishing a dialogue between these separate cultures always proves an inspiration. In the past I would observe something and wonder if I could fold it. Working with Sarah has had the adverse effect that these days I wonder if I could wear it. I have yet to decide whether this is a good thing...jewellers!
Kalsang Shoba


Some five years ago I was offered the opportunity of taking on an artist in residence within the jewellery section where I was lecturing. I jumped at the chance believing quite firmly that students can only benefit from sharing their space with recent graduates. Kalsang Shoba was not a jeweller and so brought with him quite a different expertise. Students noticed his serene manner and calculated work mode. They saw how external factors would not impede the progress of his profoundly complex line of thought. On the days when he was absent they wondered if he might be meditating on some new project none of them were likely to fathom. He would return with stories of Tae Kwon-Do sparring sessions and harebrained trips that involved throwing himself off high bridges and rolling down mountains in huge balloons... Back in the studio, energy restored, he persevered in the art of total precision in every aspect of his performance. For all these reasons and because of his persistently good humour, love of discussion and food, Kalsang will always be a great partner to work with.
Sarah O’Hana

Awarding a Medal

Symbols rank amongst our oldest and most basic inventions but effectively conveying a precise, instant message is very much a demand of the digital age. Medals sit between jewellery and award, appealing to either gender and offering the wearer an alternative mode of expression. The first steps in this collaborative venture are based on mutual dialogue and suggest that art and engineering can gain much from the helping hand of the other.
Materials: Centre: 0.6mm aircraft grade titanium. Casing: 3mm acrylic. Attachments: brass screws, security tags. Process: Titanium oxide applied over graphite with laser: 60W CO2, power 70%, speed 80 %, 600ppi. Acrylic laser cut: 60W CO2 Dimensions: 51mm x 106mm


What will we hand down to future generations ? What could an archaeologist find in the next millennia?

From time immemorial we have been passing on heirlooms, family treasures, information from one generation to the next. Using the conventional method of knowledge transfer, the ring is formatted much in the same way as a book. The pages unfold to reveal the dimensions, tools, method and ingredients needed to make the design. The ring is a vehicle for the imparting of replicable knowledge taken from the scientific and engineering cultures as well as from art and design, an alloy that takes some mixing and is represented by the difficult marriage of titanium and paper.
Materials: Outer covers: 0.6mm aircraft grade titanium. Pages: 112gsm tracing paper. Rivets: 1.5mm OD silver tube Process: Titanium cut by laser :35W Nd:YAG, 20Hz, 100ns, 680mj, + argon Titanium oxide: 60W CO2, power 50% to 95%, speed 15 %, 30%, 1000ppi. Paper cut by laser: 60W CO2 Dimensions: 25mm x 43mm


Heirlooms Ring

By converting a drawing to a bitmap the laser receives a signal to mark spots that may be sparsely or densely placed. This causes the colour on the titanium to appear ‘painted’ on, offering a more intuitive aesthetic that aims to narrow the gap between hand and material, rendering the technology more transparent.

ID Cards,

December 2005

The images on the cards explore details of magnified drawings taken from sketchbooks on one side and numerical data on the other. The cards are designed to allow the bearer right of entry to both art and science communities. Aiming to display an intuitive effect, the images are the product of an ongoing conversation with engineering and bring into question different aesthetic values that artists and scientists/engineers identify with. For this reason the ‘cards’ are two sided and reversible, being wearable by either culture as a ‘pass’ into the other.
Materials: 0.6mm aircraft grade titanium. Casing: security card holder. Process: tanium cut by laser: 35W Lumonics M35LS Nd: YAG pulsed laser. Images (oxides) applied using a 60W Universal CO2 pulsed laser at 95% power, 20% speed and 1000 ppi. x 3 passes. Dimensions: 58mm x 90mm

Ocular Series
The series is based on the aesthetic of optical measuring equipment and relates to concepts of vision: ‘seeing the bigger picture’, ‘clouded vision’, ‘seeing through tinted glasses’.... This is emphasized by the observation of engineers in scientific research and their experiments that have become inspirational in their own right. Fingerprints add a dimension that simulates the reduction of distance between artist and workpiece, a concern rising from the increased use of digital technology that drives the laser.


Object: Pendants / objects to look through Materials: 0.6mm aircraft grade titanium, acrylic, silver, brass screws, lenses Process: Titanium oxide applied by laser: 60W CO2, power 30%-100%, speed 3%-10% Image density: 6, 1000ppi Dimensions: 48mm diameter

Power Speed Dpi ID

: 56 : 3 : 1000 : 6

24 3 1000 6

6 40 12 28 8 52 20 48 16 36 10 44 32 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 1000 1000 1000 1000 1000 1000 1000 1000 1000 1000 1000 1000 1000 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6

Vector lines: Power :50 Speed :10 DPI :1000

Power Speed Dpi ID

: : : :

60 20 1000 ID:5

80 20 1000 ID:5

90 20 1000 ID:5

50 20 1000 ID:5

60 10 1000 ID:6

80 10 1000 ID:6

100 10 1000 ID:6

50 10 1000 ID:6

30 10 1000 ID:6

40 10 1000 ID:6

90 10 1000 ID:6

25 10 1000 ID:6

85 10 1000 ID:6

35 10 1000 ID:6

45 10 1000 ID:6


There is an implicit ignorance of a material unless the hand is involved directly. This is because hands feel pressure, can grasp and touch on more than one plane at once. “Hands get shaped”, wrote Malcolm McCullough, “They may get callused or stained. They pick up experience.” Without this experience, this handling, how can we understand material behaviour? Drawing comes under the same rule.
McCullough, M. (1998) Abstracting Craft: The practiced Digital Hand, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press. pp.2

Drawing: La Tramuntana, Mallorca (2006).

I return to Mallorca frequently to do most of my drawing. The light is unequalled there and the landscape dramatic. I have drawn the same scene many times, trying to see shape and changing colour, distance, transparency and heat. Observing the formality of houses within the landscape of cypress and olive trees, delighting at the violent contrast between light and shadow in such a hot climate. I draw to understand all these elements. As a maker of objects this has some logic and the collaboration between drawing and making within my own practice is obvious although not always straightforward and linear. The simultaneous advance of the multi-stranded animal that is art practice is in constant evolution. It is a question of harnessing the resulting energy into considered shape and form.
Drawing: Aucanada, Mallorca (2005).

Photo: A. Pinkerton

Laser experiments are frequently carried out in the LPRC on materials that are familiar to jewellery artists. The sample of coloured squares below illustrates the brighter colours obtainable on titanium using the concentric beam option on a 7W Laservall Violino (532nm laser), a vastly improved result that sheds light on the future of this project.

Treasures from the Royce Laboratories

There is a great deal for engineers to gain from the dialogue with art that forces us to confront aspects of the “truth” we would otherwise not be familiar with. I am quite sure Leonardo da Vinci would approve of a research project that brings an artist into an engineering school. He wrote at length eloquently on “the surface of things and light” and would have been very interested in the science, art and engineering convergence in the jewellery resulting from this project. I write as one of Sarah O’Hana’s two academic supervisors. My co-supervisor colleague, Professor Lin Li, is an internationally recognised expert on laser technology and applications. Designing the research problem and questions in Sarah’s research project is in itself extremely challenging. For my part I am a chartered civil engineer with broad research interests, which have included, for a number of years, collaborating with artists and art educators. I personally access the language of art through my own painting. I have observed that language and the lack of it can often be central to the problem of academic collaboration between artists and engineers. I think it is important to distinguish between engineering and science. Engineers apply science and the education or formation of engineers includes significant consideration of scientific principles, theories and perspectives but engineers are usually practical people who share with artists a deep interest in making. From my experience this leads to a shared awareness of the need to play with materials, line, form, gesture and sometimes

colour. This is helpful in providing shared meaning but there has to be enough convergence in the relationship between an artist and an engineer for there to be a creative dialogue, respected by both partners. I believe our ongoing conversations to be convergent enough for there to be a two way sharing of concepts that promotes mutual learning. However, what I have found so far in the university system is that we are so compartmentalised and protective of discipline cultures that true crossdisciplinary partnership is uncommon. Not long ago I heard of a senior academic engineer complaining that an artist’s research project in an engineering school was “not the sort of thing that we should be doing”. I disagree. I very much enjoy and learn from working with Sarah O’Hana and I believe she is developing an important contribution to knowledge.

Dr Andrew Gale,
School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering, The University of Manchester

Richter, I. A. (Ed) (1998) The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, Oxford University Press, pp 124-144


Laboratory precision comes with wonderful names such as nano, pico, femto...Tracks made by the laser as it traverses the titanium leave a band of visible colour while the spot created by the beam was measured at 93.635 µm (about the width of human hair).

Microscopic photographs of the same sample of marked titanium were taken over five different depths of field. Areas of defocus were then removed and the five images superimposed to create one clear, focused image.

To test the success of a laser weld between a 9ct gold 0.5mm wire and a stainless steel bearing ball of 2mm diameter, the sample is encased in clear resin for ease of handling and sliced so that the join is exposed. The clip that holds the sample in place very much resembles an earring back, the edges of which can be seen here as arches and on the next page as the whole object. The join (between the large white sphere and the smaller gold one) is polished to beyond mirror finish but scratches are still visible under the microscope.

Grinding down the surface continues until the marriage of the two metals is evident (above right). Different experiments are mounted by engineers in resin for the purpose of observation. The double thickness of a steel clip holding a piece of silver in conductive resin can be seen as white bands (left, right and top right).

An engineering department is not the first place you might expect to find a jeweller, but Sarah O’Hana’s research at the University of Manchester’s School of Mechanical Aerospace and Civil Engineering, not only makes sense practically, but also ideologically. She once described herself to me as a fish out of water, but it is clear to see what impact her research into the creative application of laser processing may have on the intricate work of a jeweller. New areas of work have opened up because of the possibilities offered by the technology itself, but she has not only been inspired by the technology: the lasers normally used for the investigation of specific engineering components for aerospace and other industries, but perhaps not surprisingly, it has been the people, the engineers themselves, who have also influenced her work. The engineers are also engaged in the process of making. During their own research, engineers encase their test pieces in circular resin blocks. These are small objects of about 3cm in diameter. In order to observe and accurately measure aspects of the component’s profiles inside and out, the resin blocks are sliced, sometimes creating discs of translucent resin with the intricate metallic experiments set within them. These discs, made for very practical purposes and easily read by those who work with them, are fascinating and beautiful objects to a jeweller. O’Hana would come across these objects in the laboratories and talk to the engineers about how aesthetically interesting they were. The engineers would initially reply in terms of the object’s success or failure. Could they be seen in a different light rather than only stages in a necessary process?

At an early seminar I attended with O’Hana, an engineering colleague asked her how her research would inform science. The answer came from one of her supervisors, that her work would principally be about finding applications for the technologies already developed, an undoubtedly important part of what she will do. I think O’Hana’s work will progress science, but not in the way that the engineer who asked the question might have intended. I work with contemporary artists at the Manchester Museum, perhaps mainly because I think that art can progress other disciplines in some way. Often, projects that work with art evolve into the artists being used as some sort of communicators, illustrating the work of others. But I think art is interesting because of its explicit subjectivity in its admission to a human process. I do not think anyone works in a vacuum; everyone lives and works in response to their own desires, fears, beliefs and experiences, and scientists or engineers are no exception to this. Over the course of her research, and through events such as the exhibition of work by Sarah O’Hana at the Museum, I hope we might come to see the people behind the science, to understand science and engineering as not something outside of the world and humanity but very much a part of it. That would be progress.

Bryony Bond
Manchester Museum


Dr Andrew Pinkerton
Mechanical Engineer

I create small three-dimensional parts by fusing metal powder using a moving laser beam. Just as a drill or milling machine removes material to make a part this method, called Laser Direct Metal Deposition, adds it (‘additive manufacturing’). I make nickel superalloy parts, which are used in turbine engines.

Photo: A. Pinkerton

Dr Amin Abdolvand
Applied Physicist

Interaction of short laser pulses with metals results in generation of self-organised micro-cones on the surface of the target. Their direction always coincides with the direction of the incident laser light and their spatial period is proportional to the laser spot size. It is believed that at least two processes contribute to the redistribution of the target material leading to the formation of the microcones; (i) material transport through atmosphere, (ii) melt displacement along the surface of the target.

A phenomenon called “direct-current electric field-assisted dissolution of metallic nanoparticles embedded in glass” results in the generation of percolated metallic nano-layers inside glass matrices. The observed colorations are due to interference. More information can be found in A. Abdolvand et. al. inAdvanced Materials, 17(24), 2983-2987 (2005), Optics Express, 13(4), 1266-1274 (2005) and J. of Phys. Chem. B, 108(46),1769917703 (2004).

Sarah O’Hana is a CASE research student in the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at The University of Manchester. The exhibition Walking with Scientists was curated for Inside Out, the Ars Ornata Europeana conference 2007 in Manchester, UK, and is part of the project The creative use of laser processing and its application to contemporary jewellery.


Dr. A. W. Gale and Prof. L. Li School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering, The University of Manchester.

Dr. M. Schmidt and K. Shoba

Project funded by
EPSRC, NWDA, LMDI and City College Manchester

Manchester Museum
Bryony Bond Jeff Horsley

Jeremy Lawrance


Conference organisation
Sarah O’Hana Jo Bloxham Jim Grainger

Sarah O’Hana Dr. A. W. Gale Bryony Bond



Jim Grainger Microscope: Kalsang Shoba

Mia Bengtsson, www.graformat.com

Graphic Design

Published in 2007 by TheVirtualCompany.co.uk ©Ars Ornata Manchester Ltd. 2007 Text © 2007 Sarah O’Hana and named contributors Images © 2007 Ars Ornata Manchester Ltd. and named copyright holders

ISBN 978-0-9556044-0-9

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