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Quark Park
By: Ilene Dube 08/09/2006
See related story:
Following Follies


   Sculptor Jonathan Shor (right) has been teamed up with Princeton University Professor of computer science Perry Cook, whose field is psychoacoustics. Prof. Cook made headlines recently with his laptop orchestra and has recorded with the vocal group Schola Discantus. They have created a lithophone, or stone xylophone, an instrument that dates back 4,000 years. It turns out the two men are neighbors, although they had never before talked about their work. "I still don't really know what psychoacoustics is, but he sent me a link to his Web site and I listened to snippets of the music he's created," says Mr. Shor, who had a vision of a Dennis the Menace-type kid dragging a stick along a picket fence. He began making a series of stone columns, or keys.
   "Terry came to my studio and began knocking on them after I'd made a few," says Mr. Shor. "He'd knock with his hand or an old drill and say 'Beautiful!' I didn't hear anything but I went on his assertion." Mr. Shor drilled holes in the granite, then put in a wedge and a shim to split the stone. "The stone was cooperative and split well. It has a crackling sound when the crystals split, and also a pinging when hit with a hammer."
   Dr. Cook put contact microphones on the stone and recorded the internal sound of the stone cracking, then composed music using the recording. The composition is 15-minutes long with three movements, and is played on a loop. Viewers can also pick up a rod and hit the stones to add to the music.
   "There are 17 posts on the lithophone, a prime number, and this gets engineers excited," says Mr. Shor. "It wasn't my design, it just happened that way, and the whole composition is based on the rhythm of 17."


       Landscape architect Holly Grace Nelson (left in photo at left) is working with Princeton University Professor of geophysics George Philander on a weather garden. "Early on, when we met in his office, he said much of science has to do with math, and that scientists make equations to explain things with perfect information, but weather isn't like that," she says. "'Islands of order in a sea of chaos' became the theme for this garden."
   In an e-mail, Prof. Philander writes, "We are hoping that, in a small way, the weather garden will influence the debates about science... and intelligent design, for example."
   Bill Flemer, a landscaper who is a descendant of the Princeton Nurseries family, supplied the team with a stand of river birch trunks, the bark peeling off in curls as if it has received a bad sunburn. Forming a circle and interspersed with beech trunks, there is an oculus at the top, with a stained-glass sun. Ultimately the piece will have fog misting over it and wind from a windmill that uses the duct ventilating Mediterra restaurant, just behind the garden.
   Ms. Nelson says she was inspired by Richard Serra's 72-foot-tall steel "Vortex." Putting it together challenged the original concept, and steel bands had to be cinched over it like a girdle to keep it from forming a teepee, she recounts. "The lesson of the birch tree is, you shoot for something and incorporate the unanticipated and serendipitous, not unlike trying to predict the weather."
   "What is science?" asks Prof. Philander, in a written statement. "Politicians pontificate about this question. Judges rule on it. Scientists ignore it. (Most are as interested in the history and philosophy of science as birds are in ornithology.) Scientists ask questions — selectively. Of the many questions we have to address to make sense of this perplexing world, scientists carefully choose a few, and answer them in a highly idealized context, creating pools of order and understanding in a seemingly chaotic world."


   Princeton Professor of civil and environmental engineering George Scherer, who is teamed up with sculptor Kate Graves (right), devises coatings for stone that neutralizes the negative effects of salt crystals that push stone from inside out and cause stone to flake, says Ms. Graves.
   With Natural Edge garden designers, she has created an arbor under which she will put a stone table she is making. On the surface of the table she is planning a gameboard for oware, the national game of Ghana that is similar to mancala. The board game uses rocks and recessed pockets.
   The table's legs will be sitting in saline solution underground. "We hope that the capillary action of the stone will wick up the solution," she says. "We hope the stone with the coating will remain stable, and the stone leg without coating will delaminate."
   The process of degeneration takes time, so those waiting can play a game or two of oware. Although the table has been engineered to deconstruct, Ms. Graves says she hopes the idea "will have legs."


   Landscape architect Alan Goodheart (right in photo at right) and Princeton University professor of geosciences Lincoln Hollister have known each other for 46 years; they met in a mineralogy class at Harvard and several years later found themselves neighbors in Princeton.
   With what he describes as a giant piece of jewelry with metaphoric rock, Prof. Hollister says of their project, "We are trying to represent how continents are made."
   "It's not just metamorphic, it's metaphoric," says Mr. Goodheart. "It helps us understand light. It will be viewed from both sides so light will go through at different times of the day and will sparkle as people drive by... (It's as if) we dug up a huge section from underground and brought it into the light so people can see what we're walking on.
   "You know it's sexy before you see it," he says. "It's subduction and orogeny. That's what we want to do with Quark Park: make science sexy. It's important to our understanding of the world, and our learning to live comfortably with change."

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