Episode 5: Inside a molecule of a whale

Broadcast date: Friday 20 June 2014, 4.30pm GMT (repeats at 7pm GMT Saturday, 21 June) on Resonance 104.4 FM (listen live online here).

This episode is about dramatically magnified molecules – specifically, it’s about molecular forms that have been translated into architectures that dwarf the human body. We’ll hear from cultural historian Celeste Olalquiaga on the ruin of a helical mall in Caracas, Venezuela, and the historian of science Soraya de Chadarevian, who will illuminate the fantastical molecular forms broadcast on television during the Cold War.

The Atomium, photograph from from a View-Master souvenir reel of Expo '58, Brussels World's Fair

The Atomium, photograph from from a View-Master souvenir reel of Expo ’58, Brussels World’s Fair

 

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El Helicoide de la Roca Tarpeya, or simply ‘El Helicoide’, an uncompleted commercial centre in Caracas, Venezuela, formed of two spiraling roads, 1960-1. Architects: Jorge Romero Gutiérrez, Pedro Neuberger & Dick Bornhorst. Find out more about El Helicoide (and see more pictures!) at http://proyectohelicoide.wordpress.com

For this week’s show we’ve also created our own molecular architecture – one perceivable only through sound. It’s a virtual reverb space build by ATOMIC radio sound designer Sam Conran, inspired by the model below of a molecule of a sperm whale’s myoglobin, a protein found in the whale’s muscle tissue.

Sperm Whale Myoglobin, 1960s, built by A A Barker, related to research by the crystallographer John Kendrew. Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, England.

Sperm Whale Myoglobin, 1960s, built by A A Barker, related to research by the crystallographer John Kendrew. Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, England.

Inside this myoglobin molecule we’ll hear a new radio play written just for this molecular sound space by the writer Daniel Marrone, performed by Janina Lange and Edwina Attlee. (Scroll down below for the poem featured in the play.)

Find out more about myoglobin, the first protein structure discovered by X-ray crystallographers, here and at the Protein Data Bank, an enormous archive of the atomic structures of every protein scientists have mapped that was also a vital source for the sound space we made for this episode.

El Helicoide de Roca Tarpeya, uncompleted commercial centre in Caracas, Venezuela, formed of two spiralling roads. Architects: Jorge Romero Gutiérrez, Pedro Neuberger & Dick Bornhorst. Find out more about El Helicoide (and see more pictures!) at http://proyectohelicoide.wordpress.com

Ground being prepared for the construction of El Helicoide, 1957-8, http://proyectohelicoide.wordpress.com

 

More about this week’s contributors:

Celeste Olalquiaga is a cultural historian currently working on a project surrounding El Helicoide in Caracas, Venezuela, that will feature exhibitions, events and a book reflecting on the building’s complex history. Find out more about the project at proyectohelicoide.wordpress.com where you will find links to their crowdfunding campaign.

Soraya de Chadarevian is a historian of science. She is a professor at the University of California Los Angeles in the Department of History and the Institute for Society and Genetics. Soraya is the author of many books, including Designs for Life: Molecular Biology after World War II.

Daniel Marrone is a writer and cultural critic currently working on a book about memory and the texture of comic books.

Edwina Attlee is a writer and researcher currently working towards a PhD with the London Consortium where she writes about theories of the everyday and everyday spaces. She is interested in laundry practices, the space of the home and commutation. She also likes fire drills and Roland Barthes. You can find her here https://twitter.com/eddieramones

Janina Lange is a visual artist working in Berlin and London. She is interested in pratfalls and pie-in-the-face scenarios and is currently preparing an exhibition at Heit in Berlin. http://www.heitberlin.de

 

Mäuseherz

by Daniel Marrone

The marvel of warm blood
in such a small cabinet
startles the heart,

invites comparison.
A fist moves a machine
many fists in size –

is mouseblood pumped
by a mere pawheart,
each chamber a curled,

grain-like finger?
Organs are complex;
magnitude suits them.

The heart of the blue
whale is, at 1300 lbs.,
the perfect size,

and when it beats
sounds like a fist
pounding a desk.

A mouseheart simply
whirrs, four fingers
drumming softly.

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