Friday, July 22, 2005

Chemical galaxy

This morning I went to visit Philip Stewart, who designed the Chemical Galaxy.

I'd first seen his poster in Jem Finer's shed at the Centre of the Universe (see this post). Turns out he was featured this week on Newsnight.

Philip talked about the origins of the idea - inspired by a giant mural by Edgar Longman which he saw as a 12 year old at the Festival of Britain in 1951, and the popular work of Fred Hoyle.

Graphical representations of periodicity of the elements go back some way before the periodic table. Philip showed me, for example, a fascinating [French?] graphic from 1867 [?] that portrays them in a helix (represented in two dimensions) .

(On matters helical, Philip said he had visited Jem most days of the Centre of the Universe project, and had given him the picture in his shed of the Great Mosque at Samarra).

We covered some ground in a general conversation, including Islam and the environment (Philip prefers to "ecology" to "environment") , Darrell Posey's wonderful Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, climate change (including graphical representations such as a Carbon Clock), ecological economics to Herman Daly (there was, I suggested, more on this in Adam Smith than you might at first think), the damage done by Richard Dawkins's conceptually faulty jump from selfish gene to selfish individuals (influential on Margaret Thatcher & co), David Buller's Adapting Minds, the damage done by flying and the merits of staying in one place or travelling only by bicycle or even better by foot.

Stewart, who describes himself as a feral turkey, teaches in the human sciences unit at Oxford U. He clearly loves teaching, and was proud to show me a tribute from his students last year who had all calculated their ecological footprint.

I think I may be gearing up for a long walk.

No comments: