Gemma Dardis: Interdisciplinary Visual Arts

Gemma Dardis based in the faculty of Art and Design at LIT is engaged with an interdisciplinary research project that explores the best practices that integrate the arts and STEM fields.

Gemma Dardis, Limerick Institute of Technology

Limerick institute of technology student, Gemma Dardis based in the faculty of Art and Design is engaged with an interdisciplinary research project that explores the best practices that integrate the arts and STEM fields. Her research focus, to create a permanent fired photographic image on a ceramic surface has evolved into a pursuit that now positions contemporary scientific research in nanotechnology alongside an interdisciplinary visual art practice. Artistic craftsmen were arguably the first nanoscientists stretching back thousands of years. One of the most famous examples of this technique is the Lycurgus Cup, one of a class of Roman vessels known as cage cups or diatreta, which contains both gold and silver nanoparticles. These early craftsmen gathered information through direct observation, measuring materials to promote reproducible results, and changing one variable at a time-did much to shape the methodology of science. Today contemporary scientific techniques such as nanolithography have their base in historical artistic practise. 

Nanotechnology is at the cutting edge of research in all areas of science, engineering and technology. At its core are nanoscale materials and nanoparticles (NPs) in particular, composing differently shaped structures in sizes ranging from 1nm to 1000 nm e.g. a human hair is approximately 80,000 nanometers wide. Gold nanoparticles have found importance in many areas of science and technology, including biomedical science, imaging technology, sensor diagnostics, electronics, packaging, cosmetics, and biotechnology. Gold nanoparticles are being used in drug delivery, optical devices, and imaging.

Scanning electron microscopy, elemental analysis, empirical scientific experimentation, and the synthesis of gold nanoparticles are not apparatus, methodologies or processes that are generally associated with research conducted through the visual arts but for the purposes of this particular avenue of research they have become essential. They have led to the development of a new process utilizing gold nanoparticles and their visual properties that not only allows for the creation of visual outcomes that are unique to the combination of photography and ceramics but also to the possibilities of what it means to artistically engage with a material that is at the fore of an innovative and evolving field of contemporary scientific research. When material dimensions reach the nanometer scale, quantum mechanical and thermodynamic properties cause these nanomaterials to display new and interesting properties. Gold zero-valent nanoparticles (AuNPs) are coloured and exhibit complex optical properties which are attributed to their localised surface plasmon resonance (LSPR) and depend on their size and morphology. The very first scientific study of nanomaterials was conducted by Michael Faraday in 1857. In his pioneering work, ‘Experimental Relations of Gold (and Other Metals) to Light’, he explains the origin of the colour in the red glaze and glass.

When working in photographic and ceramic processes artists engage in chemical processes without a clear understanding of what is occurring from a scientific and quantifiable point of view. At this stage of my research, I am no longer just exploiting the effects of these chemical processes but analysing the process and material in an empirically scientific way. Scanning electron microscopic and elemental analysis have been employed to confirm the presence of gold nanoparticles and currently underway is a series of practical experiments altering aspects of the process to assess the range of visual outcomes possible. This engagement of scientific methodologies has influenced the possible directions for my artistic practice. There now exists an opportunity to find connections between the applications of gold nanoparticles in contemporary scientific research and their application in a visual art practice. These connections have the possibility to be manifested not just in the material but also through the subject matter and it is envisaged that resulting artistic output will be a symbiosis of material process and subject matter.