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About Science and Art

Updated on July 26, 2019
Dawn July 16, 1945.  5:30 A.M.
Dawn July 16, 1945. 5:30 A.M.

Over seventy years ago, July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb was exploded in Alamogordo, New Mexico. This singular event is locked in time, recorded on the dials of many glowing radium clocks that were located miles from the blast. One such clock is shown on the cover of the book "Atomic Time" by artist Jim Sanborn.

This article is a quick introduction to Mr. Jim Sanborn and his works.

Atomic Time

The book "Atomic Time", authored by Mr. Sanborn, tells us these experiments were recorded and described in a booklet entitled "The Trinity Experiments".

Nearly thirty five years after that first test, a new-found copy of the booklet motivated Mr. Sanborn to re-travel the path of experimentation and discovery. However, unlike most of us who learn about things by reading, the discovery inspired Mr. Sanborn’s artistic talents and eventually led him to reconstruct, by his own hand, many of the critical parts of the experiments conducted in 1942-1945. This included a reconstruction of the laboratory, reconstruction of the assembly surrounding the uranium core of the Trinity Device, and reconstruction of devices that measured the core radiative and blast effects. All of this and more resulted in the exhibitions “Critical Assembly / Atomic Time” at Numark Gallery and “Atomic Time: Pure Science and Seduction” at Corcoran Gallery of Art. Both galleries are located in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Sanborn did not stop there. He went further to reconstruct the prior 1939 experiments that showed that fission of uranium was possible. This reconstruction (partially from original parts) resulted in a working model of an electrostatic accelerator capable of splitting the atom. It now sits in his own back yard. Parts of this work were presented in the exhibition “Energy Effects: Art and Artifacts, From the Landscape of Glorious Excess” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, Colorado.

Nothing I write here can do this work full justice, so I have included a video below. In that YouTube video, Mr. Sanborn talks about his efforts and the exhibition.

Energy Effects


No introduction of Mr. Sanborn would be complete without mention of the sculpture Kryptos. Some folks think Kryptos is really cool because it sits in the courtyard of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Other folks think it is really cool because it contains one of the world’s top ten unsolved cipher codes. Think about that, an unsolved cipher sitting in the courtyard of the CIA, authored by an artist who creates working models of devices that split the atom.

That is awesome.

But there is more.

Many of his other sculptures and art works deal with the notion of invisible forces. In the case of his cryptographic sculptures, the invisible force many think he refers to is the force of espionage, a profession that is forced to be practiced in secrecy due to the potential consequences to the practitioner. Setting this sculpture at the heart of the CIA certainly makes this the most obvious of the invisible forces. But there are other hidden forces.

As you decode the various parts of Kryptos, you may be led to think about these other invisible forces. Decoding the first part might lead you to learn about magic and illusion, the invisible forces that governed the era we call the dark ages. Decoding the second part might lead you to learn about electromagnetism, radio waves, and other invisible forces whose discovery marked the beginning of the modern technological era.

We cannot feel it, yet common rabbits have the sense to run when lightning is about to strike.

Decoding the third part of Kryptos might lead you to reconsider history itself as an invisible force. Things that became secret simply because they were buried and forgotten, are recovered to the light of day through the study of archaeology. History affects us through what we forget as well as what we remember, and often serves as the basis for cultural differences.

Government too is an invisible force, which may become apparent in the sculpture when the fourth part of Kryptos is solved.

Some of his other sculptures deal with wave forces. At least one of his other exhibits deals with ocean wave motions. Others show the effect of electromagnetic fields through their effects on free-moving pieces of metal. A person viewing these works might be inspired to consider these forces, perhaps while not even thinking of them as forces. It would be interesting to see how he would portray gravitational waves. We all live with the effects, but rarely acknowledge their existence.

Kryptos and the Berlin Clock

A few years back, Mr. Sanborn released a clue about the plain text of Kryptos. That clue was the characters “NYPVTT” decoded character for character to the one word “Berlin”. In a later release he released another word, the characters “MZFPK” decode to the word “Clock”. He has told those trying to solve Krytpos that the two words refer to the physical Berlin Clock located in Berlin, Germany. To the best of my knowledge, he has said nothing about whether the phrase “Berlin Clock” is a clue to look at other works in his book “Atomic Time.” I do know it is a great way to bring an introductory article full circle.

And for those Kryptos followers who wonder, I noted no discernible layered onions in “Atomic Time.”

Mr. Sanborn is currently best known for his sculpture Kryptos. Time will likely change that as folks learn more about his art, and are led to rediscover the dawn of the nuclear age.

Hidden messages, invisible forces, and awesome talent.

I for one am looking forward to what he might have to share someday about glaciers and rabbits.


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