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Talk like a lemur. Attack a tumor. Explore the galaxy. This exhibit blends science and design.

A young visitor explores how dark matter bends light throughout the galaxy in the "Invisible Worlds" exhibit in Raleigh.
A young visitor explores how dark matter bends light throughout the galaxy in the "Invisible Worlds" exhibit in Raleigh.

Have you ever wondered how scientists detect dark matter? Or how radiologists attack cancer cells without killing healthy cells? Or how to make new antibiotics?

Now you can experience cutting-edge research through six interactive, large-scale artworks in downtown Raleigh this month. The free exhibition, titled “Invisible Worlds,” will run Thursdays through Saturdays from noon to six p.m. at the future Transfer Co. Food Hall at 500 E. Davies St.

Many of the artists and scientists involved will attend the opening night Friday from 6 to 9 nine p.m.

Scientists from N.C. State University's College of Sciences teamed up with students and faculty of the school's College of Design to offer a novel way to interact with science. The project is the second production of The Leading Strand, an initiative that links science and design, CEO and founding designer Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya said.

“Our theme was ‘bringing the unseen into focus’,” Phingbodhipakkiya said. “As you touch these pieces you learn about the science and about the people behind it. They bring this layer of unseen magic into the light.”

Last fall, Phingbodhipakkiya was the first speaker in the “Crossroads” series of public lectures about science and society, then decided to run a project at N.C. State. She joined the faculty for spring 2018 and facilitated meetings between biologists, physicists, mathematicians, chemists and design teams to conceptualize and create the art pieces.

“The collaborations between artists and scientists have a great potential for bringing science into peoples’ lives in different ways,” astrophysicist Katie Mack said. “It’s interesting and appealing and reaches people differently than a lecture.”

Four students and a faculty adviser worked with Mack to create the dark matter exhibit. String lights illuminate a dark room where colorful beads sit inside plastic balls hanging from the ceiling. The balls cluster in a hanging web the way galaxies cluster in the universe, Mack said, and mirrors give the impression that they go on forever.

The beads represent visible matter, which is everything that we can see, while the translucent balls represent dark matter. Visitors observe how the light distorts and creates patterns on the floor as it passes through the balls, just as scientists detect dark matter by observing how light bends from gravity.

“It brings science to life in a whole new way when you see a piece that inspires your creativity and makes you curious about research,” graduate student Mira Abed, who also produced the exhibit, said. “There’s a knowledge gap between the scientific community and the public, and this art has the power to bring communities together.”

The other exhibits have visitors tap a log to communicate as lemurs, flip through books at different time scales, direct radiation toward a large metaphorical tumor, design and test synthetic antibiotics, and pull rods exerting force on sand.

Locals Seafood will offer complimentary oysters and a raw bar at Friday night's event. Locals will open a location in the food hall later this year.

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