We are delighted to announce that Professor Daren Caruana, UCL Chemistry will be the 2021 Slade Scientist in Residence.
Statement from Professor Daren Caruana:
I am incredibly excited about this residency at the Slade School. Science has been my career but art has always been a firm passion of mine.
I originally identified as a biochemist and really enjoyed the interrogation of chemical systems within a biological setting. Over the course of my training, I was fortunate to have been exposed to the scientific process in several fields of research; eventually I landed as a physical chemist, or more specifically electrochemist. Electrochemistry is quite an important discipline that underpins many important technological applications, such as batteries and power sources, electroplating, sensing, and many more. My research focuses on ‘blue skies’ and less applied areas which often has no clear end use. Since I have been at UCL, I have been concerned with understanding gaseous plasmas, an area of research with is quite unique. The rationale behind this work is to investigate the properties of these fascinating electrically conducting gases, using an electrochemical approach. The presence of free electrons opens up the possibility of observing and possibly controlling very unusual chemical reactions. Electrons are normally discretely organised within atoms and molecules, however, if the conditions are favourable electrons tend to exchange between molecules or reorganise within molecules; this is the basis of almost all chemical change. In plasmas electrons exist freely in the gas phase and it turns out they can react in quite unique ways. So, I think of electrons as reagents or reactive chemical species rather than a consequential component of chemical change. Accidently, this work has led to the development of some useful technology which has resulted in a patent, centred on plasma jet materials synthesis. Of course, another benefit is the fact that these plasmas are beautiful to work with. There is something quite satisfying working with a hot ball of glowing gas!
|Butane flame with additives, photo credit: Matt Li||Argon plasma jet, photo credit: M. Emre Sener|
In the early stages of my career, I was a great fan of ‘Lateral thinking’, a way of thinking developed by Edward De Bono. Originally aimed at business and economic theory, it can be applied to many areas, and I would say that it shaped a lot of my research approach, particularly the way I think of ideas and exploring problems. The approach I adopt in my research is a lot of fun and very satisfying; although can sometimes lead into blind alleys; the difficulty is actually recognising this! I don’t often question the scientific approach, but it is probably about time I did. I am hoping this residency will give me the space to dissect my scientific approach and explore the parallels with the artistic approach.
Art has always been important in my life; I turn to oil painting whenever I have the time or life throws a pandemic. So, an opportunity to be involved with the Slade is an extraordinary opportunity for me personally. The shape of this residency will hopefully be symbiotic, a chance for me to study and learn, but if appropriate, contribute to various projects in the Slade. I look forward to step completely out of my comfort zone, be privileged for a chance to observe and appreciate the philosophy behind the creative process. With my chemistry hat on, I would like to explore how art practice uses chemistry and start to examine how the different facets of chemistry can play a role in the creative process or in the artwork itself. Although this residency will be for a short period, I hope to act a conduit between the Slade and the chemistry department for years to come.