Norie Sato’s chemistry-inspired artwork reaches out to students even before they open the west door to Hach Hall, a reminder of chemistry’s connection to everything in the surrounding world. Multiple panels of cobalt-blue backlit glass mounted on aluminum panels on the exterior, entry and lobby incorporate chemical patterns and elements, including Penrose patterns that occur on microscopic surfaces. As one moves into the lobby, to the left are 7 glass pivot doors which continue with similar designs from the molecular world in the brilliant colors of elements encountered in the chemistry lab: lavender, cobalt and aquamarine, purple, and magenta.
The movement of light at various times of the day and night on the metal and glass, as well as the viewer’s motion, transforms the artwork, altering the viewer’s experience as one enters or leaves the building.
Sato uses symbols, materials, and processes from chemistry to reveal its transformative power and aesthetic appeal to both novice and experienced chemists. The Penrose patterns may remind viewers of the legacy of Iowa State chemists and materials scientists, including that of Dan Shechtman, an Iowa State Professor who won the 2011 Nobel Prize for his discovery of quasi-crystals.
As students move further into the lobby they will notice a long glass case, reminiscent of traditional classroom building display cases, but with surprising contents. Within, multiple pieces of blown-glass form a chemistry-inspired sculpture. Some of the glassware are the familiar apparatus of a chemistry lab: pipettes, funnels, and beakers; others, like the glass trumpet suspended from the top of the case, are whimsical and evocative, inviting playful inquisition. Some of the pieces are human-like. One, a suspended figure, appears to be a glass version of the G-Nome “guardian” found on the roof of the nearby Molecular Biology Building. This glassware was created from cast-off chemistry glass in collaboration with Iowa State chemistry department glassblower, Trond Forre, who collaborated with Sato to transform and re-sculpt pieces.
This sculptural display also includes a variety of elements, both pure and oxides, and students are invited to discover them. At the far left end, a plaque lists the elements and provides hints. Examples include: a carbon fiber sheet lining the back of the case and gold and silver leaf (thin foil) on test tubes forming a sun-ray-like object. Colorful elements include a cobalt-blue glass resembling a vase of flowers, and a gallium-filled funnel that cracked when the volume of the gallium expanded after cooling. Students can look for other elements and learn the answers at the right end of the case. The sculpture thus invites engagement, close-observation and inquiry, all fundamental to chemistry.
The title of the work, e+l+e+m+e+n+t+a+l, refers to the use elements and molecular themes that are basic to chemistry. The word “elemental” also conveys something fundamental, deep, and basic, suggesting the essential role chemistry plays in our lives.
Seattle-based artist, Norie Sato, grew up in a family of scientists, and has a long interest in the connections between nature, art, and science. Originally trained as a print-maker, her art now includes sculpture, 2-dimensional, integrated design, landscape, video, and light and media including terrazzo, glass, and metal. Her work appears in public, corporate, and private collections around the world, including airports in San Diego, San Francisco, and Miami. Science-related installations in Iowa include the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory and the Iowa State Lab in Ankeny. Sato’s other public work of art on the Iowa State campus in the Palmer Human Development and Family Studies Building, also features art integrated into the architecture of the building. Entitled One, Now, All, it includes a water wall, engraved words, and terrazzo flooring.
Written by Roberta Vann, University Museums Docent, 2014