Homage to the Low Energy Nuclear Reactions: LENR II by Stefano Marchetti

Published: 08.02.2016
Homage to the Low Energy Nuclear Reactions: LENR II by Stefano Marchetti.
Stefano Marchetti
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It is not easy to describe what kind of profession is that of the contemporary jeweller. It often consists in merging different jobs.
Regarding myself I usually give a recipe. I am composed thus: 34% craftsman or goldsmith, 11% sculptor, 22% technical processes developer, 25% teacher, 8% complainer - in general about everything. And yet, during the time I spent making the brooch  Homage to LENR II , I was 100% alchemist.
Stefano Marchetti has been awarded with the Herbert Hofmann Prize at the Schmuck 2016 edition for his brooch LENR II.

Ever since I was a student in metal craft, my interest in discovering and exploring techniques and technological processes was a kind of burning fire. At that time, I regarded the word alchemy as a synonym for chemistry only somewhat tastier. An exotic challenge.
Many are the ways in which contemporary art approaches alchemy: an anthropological or philosophical investigation, a way of finding aesthetic solutions, a surreal point of view to describe different realities.
But never did I see, in contemporary art, a scientific approach to alchemy. I was annoyed by this and I wanted to work on it but I did not know exactly what to do and how to do it.
During the last hundred years, science has made it possible to control and transform atoms into subatomic particles and vice versa. These reactions required complicated devices or dangerous sources of energy. Today, instead, it seems possible to control metal transmutations in easier and less dangerous ways. The philosopher's stone does, in fact, already exist. The so-called low energy nuclear reactions (LENR), would allow for the recombination of different elements’ nuclei into metallic transmutations.
Well, as soon as I heard that the philosopher's stone existed, I knew exactly what to do. Finally I had no doubts: as I am a goldsmith, it definitely ought to be a piece of jewellery!
The first piece I made with this purpose in mind was the brooch LENR, made in 2012.

Picture n.01 early sketch, LENR, 2012.

Picture n.02 Brooch, LENR, 2012, Amber, electrum, glass, mixed media.

The brooch LENR, is made of amber - ēlektron in ancient Greek - and the gold and silver alloy electrum. It is the shape of a sun. What a connection between terminology, materials and properties!
The only function of the object is, obviously, that of a symbol and a warning against the thoughtless use of unknown powers. It is a symbol for a kind of art in “resonance” with scientific models.
In art, as well as science, it is quite hard to have someone change his or her mind about established models. It takes a long time even when those models are clearly wrong. This brooch was to be a homage to martyrs of science and to experimentations on LENR.
In 2015 I wanted more. Of course I did not mean to obtain gold by transmutation but I at least intended to follow a scientific approach in that direction.

Picture n.03 Brooch, Homage to LENR II, 2015, gold, platinum, constantan, glass, wood, copper, resins, mixed media. Components: CuNi44 Cathode, Platinum Anode, Dewar flask, Heater, Gas outlet, Multimeter probe.

The brooch 'Homage to LENR II' represents a study on the electrochemical compression of hydrogen based on experiments conceived by the pioneer of nuclear fusion Yoshiaki Arata. That was the process I wanted to replicate, allowing for substantial differences of materials and constructive procedures. The reason, of course, being safety. I was amazed to learn that through electrolysis it was possible to recombine atomic nuclei. That seemed like a kind of magic to me, even though the reactions were quite common - not very different from the ones taking place inside the nickel metal hydride batteries.

Picture n.04 Cu-Ni44 electrode before the reaction started.

Picture n.05 Cu-Ni44 electrode after reaction had started.

This project comprises 3 pieces. The first is the brooch, 'Homage to LENR II'.
It is a smaller reproduction of the cell I used to obtain the reaction. The cathode is a needle made of Constantan - CuNi44 - and is the very one I used during the reaction.
Of course, inside my brooch there has been no fusion of atomic nuclei. Nevertheless, the structure of the hollow Cu-Ni44 electrode really did absorb a small amount of atomic hydrogen through a reaction that, not so many years ago, was considered by many to be pure folly. What an easy and fascinating transformation. First, by electrolysis I split the water into diatomic molecules of hydrogen. Then I split those molecules into atoms. Finally, from those atoms I obtained subatomic particles. A flux of protons was moving freely inside the metal. Then it turned back into molecules - a real alchemical dance.

Picture n.06 Brooch-statement: Homage to LENR II(b), 2016, wood, paper, ink, iron, shibuichi.

The second piece is the 'brooch statement'. It is a stratagem to explain, in short, what I wanted to do. As it is absolutely impossible to understand the meaning of my brooch without any explanation, I had to put a description next to it. What could be better than transforming the description into an exhibit to ensure you have it exhibited?

Picture n.07 Brooch-working diagram: Homage to LENR Ii(c), 2016, shibuichi, acrilic paint. 

The third and last brooch is the 'brooch working diagram’. I tried to make it a working diagram of the reaction itself: the water split into hydrogen and oxygen molecules, the protons trapped inside the metal structure, the hydrogen free of movement inside the Constantan cavity. By measuring the small increase in pressure inside the hollow electrode, it was possible to verify that hydrogen was passing through the Constantan. The mechanism is quite simple. One atom of hydrogen is more or less 250 times bigger than its nucleus. When the nucleus loses the electron, it becomes a subatomic particle, a single proton. At this point it is much smaller and can move through spaces that an atom never could.
This reaction alone does not reach transmutation but it may contribute to it.

Well, I understand that what I described here is not what someone might usually expect when reading an article about contemporary jewellery. However, I feel that sometimes, in our field, words like 'concept' or 'alchemy' are used in a pretty superficial way. Maybe I went too far by trying to go deeper. I apologise to patient readers.Thus far, I remain convinced that utilising a more 'experimental method' would not harm the freedom of contemporary jewellery. It would not drive jewellery to boredom. It would not scare curious people.

Stefano Marchetti 2016