The Art of Eric J. Heller
Mr. Rowzee Pr. 6




Eric J. Heller [1] was born on January 10, 1946. Heller is a professor of chemistry and physics at Harvard University. Not only is he known for his work on quantum mechanics, but also how he has managed to use quantum mechanics to create digital art. With each piece created, Heller includes a description on how the piece was created using his knowledge in physics. One example is his piece Caustics I [2]. This work of art was created using the concept of caustics, or where things tend to accumulate. In this case it is light that is accumulating. In Caustic I, Heller portrayed the image of the caustics of light after passing through two layers of wavy water. This is why it looks similar to when sunlight reflects off a swimming pool. The difference though is swimming pools can only provide one refracting surface, whereas Heller produced a piece that shows light refracting off two surfaces. With this piece we are then led to explore the idea of refracting. As we learned in class, refracting is simply the process of light slowing down based on the index of two different materials, water with an index of 1.33 and air with an index of 1. In this case the two materials are water and air.. With this being said, we now know that when the light goes from air to water, it will be refracted toward the normal due to the change of a low to high index. After discovering this, we can then realize that since the water has waves, the light is not going to be refracted at the same angle each time, this producing the pattern seen in Heller’s piece.




The next piece we are going to explore is Resonance I [3]. The title kind of gives it away, but this artwork is based off a quantum wave building up in a resonant cavity between straight and curved walls. In this case the waves are arriving from below. As you can see in the piece the majority of waves are reflected back from the curved wall. But since the wavelength is just right, it causes some refraction to escape between the curved wall. This then creates a cavity of resonant. Resonance is the buildup of waves in this case. The reason for this build up is because of the reflection, refraction, and diffraction of waves. In terms of reflection picture the semicircle as a mirror facing a wall, the flat surface, with a tiny punctured whole (the bottom gap). When you aim electrons at this wall, it is common sense that very few electrons will escape from the hole. With this knowledge one would expect beyond the wall to contain very little electron movement. Looking at the image, this is clearly false. The reason for this is because after the electrons pass though their speed is increased, causing their wavelengths to get shorter. It just so happens that some speeds are just right to cause the round wavelengths needed to bounce off round objects creating a concentrated cavity. And even though there are many electrons trapped in this cavity some still manage to leak out the sides.
Another image that shows this idea of resonance is [4]. This is a time lapse piece of the activity after tow wavepackets are released. In the first time frame you can see where the wavepackets were released. Also you can see the areas of resonance being built up based on the waves reflecting and diffracting of the surfaces they encounter. In the second time laps, you are able to see the waves starting to spread out across the landscape. This is similar to how some electrons escaped in image [3] around the edges of the mirror. Andfinally in the third time frame you are able to still distinguish the resonance areas, but you also find that the waves continue to spread leaving lighter trails throughout most of the landscape.


The next piece we are going to look at is titled Chladni [5], due to the fact that they are colored representations of Chladni’s plates. We briefly looked at this idea in class, but it is the idea that if you take a certain shaped plate (in this case a square) with sand on top, then cause it to vibrate using different pitches, the sand will concentrate at the nodes of waves passing through the plate. This image is a colored version of 30 different pitches displayed.


The last piece we are going to explore is titled Transport II [6]. Although this image is based off a very simple concept, it is extremely interesting to be able to see specific effects of a landscape on electrons. For this piece, it shows the simulation of electrons traveling over a Nano scale landscape filled with hills and valleys. To get this image, the electrons are trapped in a sheet between two solids. The bumpy landscape of the two solids causes a difficult path for the electrons to navigate. These bumps are created by an irregular arrangement of positive charged atoms lying just above the flat sheet of electrons. As most of us know electrons are attracted to positive charges, causing concentrations at those points, or a bump. Where the positive charge is absent the valleys are created. Even though all of the electrons have enough energy to ride over even the highest of hills, they are still deflected in every direction as they pass. In terms of the branching present, it is the result of thousands of electrons given a unique starting angle. This caused some paths that were traveled more often than others (the black lines).


7.pngHere are some other examples of the transport series similar to [6]:

In image [7] or Transport II is the mapping of electrons in a two dimensional electron gas (2DEG). For this piece over 100,000 individual electron paths were traced out starting at the top right. In this image the white is the paths in which the electrons preferred.


In figure [8] or Transport XVII, the electrons are released form the upper center in random trajectories evenly over 180 degrees. This gives us the similar effect of true erosion on landscape.