Adam Brown’s work “Origins of Life: Experiment #1.4” is now on display at the Synth-ethic: Art and Synthetic Biology exhibition at the BIO:FICTION science, art and film festival in Vienna.
Origins of Life: Experiment #1.4
Could life still be originating on earth today? This is a question asked by many. The standard answer is “no.” Origins-of-life chemists assert that the oxygen in the current atmosphere would prevent the reactions necessary to produce prebiotic molecules such as amino acids and nucleic acids. Origins of Life: Experiment #1.4, developed by artist Adam Brown in collaboration with physiologist Robert Root-Bernstein and atmospheric chemist Maxine Davis at Michigan State University, is a performative art installation that stages a miniature model of the earth today as a live experiment. Will the common assumption prove true or false in this public laboratory setting?
Origins of Life: Experiment #1.4 is a further development of Adam Brown’s earlier installations of his Origins of Life series in which he re-enacted the famous experiments carried out by Stanley Miller and Harold Urey at the University of Chicago in the 1950s. Their setting simulated the chemical and energetic conditions of the early earth, 4 billion years ago, resulting in the production of a number of organic molecules necessary for the origin of life. Likewise, Adam Brown succeeded in obtaining similar molecules in his aesthetic and sensual gallery installations, reminding visitors that all organisms and all biology are the product of a natural synthesis.
While the early atmosphere simulated by Miller and Urey consisted of methane, ammonia, hydrogen and heated de-ionized water, subjected to electric sparks, Origins of Life: Experiment #1.4 now also integrates currently existing gases such as nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide to drive the reactions. The display also reflects the presence, today, of large oceans and thus contains seawater rich in sodium, chlorine, calcium, sulfur and potassium. It further includes minerals such as calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate, representing lime, calcite, marble and apatite. The outcomes are unpredictable – will unexpected molecules indeed be synthesized?
For more information about this science, art & film festival, please see the BIO:FICTION website and the article in New Scientist, in which Adam Brown and collaborator Robert Root-Bernstein are featured.