Jan. 30 2013 12:00 AM

MSU exhibit mixes science and art


It´s not often that art intersects with science, but on Sunday, visitors to the MSU Museum will be treated to an exhibit that’s equal parts experiment and sculpture. 

“The Great Work of the Metal Lover” is the collaborative brainchild of Michigan State University faculty members Kazem Kashefi and Adam Brown, and it involves using bacteria that turns liquid gold into its solid, 24-karat form. The process involves using a particularly resistant strain of bacteria to react with the naturally toxic liquid gold chloride in a glass bioreactor, resulting in gold flakes that are formed into nuggets.

Kashefi, assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, first showed his work 10 years ago, before teaming up with Brown, who introduced an artistic side to the project, developing the work into an exhibit.

“Adam wanted to see if we could make enough gold to hold in your hand,” Kashefi said. “We wanted to work so that people can actually see [the process] happening.”

By extending their process, the team was able to increase its product by 25 times, adding a more tangible element that lends itself to an art exhibit. This development has allowed the work to be more easily viewed and appreciated by the public.

“We figured that gold is precious and brings out a lot of curiosity in people,” Kashefi said.

Visitors to the MSU exhibit will be able to see the process in action, as well as view the end result. The bioreactor is on display, showing the reaction in progress, and there will be a gold nugget under a microscope that will project onto a flatscreen TV.

This “neo-alchemy” would be cost prohibitive to be used for large-scale gold production, Brown has pointed out. But for now, you can simply appreciate the art behind the science.

“The Great Work of the Metal Lover”
Feb. 3.
1-5 p.m.
MSU Museum
409 W. Circle Dr., East Lansing