Editing footage for the video Belly of a Rock which will be shown on an old monitor encased in a sculptural hybrid form relating to both mollusc and rock. The giant sea slug of the mollusc family, can derive directional cues from the magnetic field of the earth which is then modified in response to the lunar cycle. It orients its body between north and east prior to a full moon. In the slug’s nervous system, four particular neurons are stimulated by changes in the applied magnetic field, and two are inhibited by such changes suggesting that the animal uses its magnetic sense continuously to help it travel in a straight line.

The Earth can be divided into the inner core, the outer core, the mantle, and the thin crust. The outer core is about 1,367 miles thick and mostly composed of liquid iron and nickel. It is very malleable and in a state of violent convection. The churning liquid metal of the outer core creates and sustains Earth’s magnetic field. At the boundary between the inner and outer core temperatures can reach 6,000° C which is as hot as the surface of the sun. The inner core is a dense ball of mostly iron, but with a temperature above the melting point of iron, it is not liquid or even molten. Intense pressure from the rest of the planet and its atmosphere prevents the iron inner core from melting as the iron atoms are unable to move into a liquid state. It could be described as a plasma behaving as a solid. The inner core rotates eastward, like the surface of the planet, but it’s a little faster, making an extra rotation about every 1,000 years.  Geoscientists think that the iron crystals in the inner core align north-south, along with Earth’s axis of rotation and magnetic field and are arranged in a hexagonal close-packed pattern. The orientation of the crystal structure means that seismic waves travel faster when going north-south than when going east-west. Seismic waves travel four seconds faster pole-to-pole than through the Equator. 

The Earth is still cooling and as it does so, bits of the liquid outer core solidify or crystallize causing the solid inner core to grow by about a millimetre every year. The growth is not uniform, it is influenced by activity in the mantle and is more concentrated around regions where tectonic plates are slipping from the lithosphere into the mantle, drawing heat from the core and cooling the surrounding area. The crystallization process is very slow, and further slowed by the constant radioactive decay of Earth’s interior. Scientists estimate it would take about 91 billion years for the core to completely solidify but the sun will burn out in just 5 billion years. 

I have nervously passed the cosmic ray detectors over to programmer Jamie. It was hard to let them out of my sight after so much work to get them built but he can’t test the code he has written without them. The Breath of Stars directly interacts with cosmic rays in real time to trigger a digital reaction via a mini computer attached to a block of plastic scintillator and a sensitive photomultiplier. As each particle strikes the plastic scintillator its energy is recorded and a starburst image video relative to the energy released is projected, with the largest images representing the particles with the highest energy.

I am constructing an Obelisk sculpture in response to the concrete obelisk erected in 1955 at Hartland Magnetic Observatory, near the site’s northern boundary as a permanent azimuth mark. It is viewed via a theodolite through a window in the north wall of the Absolute Hut, its azimuth being 11º27’54” E of N and marks the point from which the magnetic north pole is tracked as it drifts westwards. Layers of torn recycled paper are stacked like sedimentary rock that holds clues to the Earth’s magnetic field reversals in its strata.

Copper contours of magnetic field lines have been lacquered to preserve the heat patina from plasma gun cutting. These shapes will be pinned to the north facing mossy wall of the Absolute Hut installation, a reimagining of the Absolute Hut at Hartland Magnetic Observatory. I will also employ a north facing window from which to observe the azimuth mark of the Obelisk sculpture.

A second research visit to RSPB Snettisham, this time to see the pink footed geese (which over winter on the mudflats here) leave their roost at dawn to fly to the fields to feed.

The walk from the car park to the viewing area is over 2km and takes about half an hour to walk. Setting out before first light the weather felt promising but just as I erected the camera tripod the rain came down hard and didn’t stop for the rest of the morning.

Made a second attempt the next morning leaving a little earlier and although it remained dry there was heavy fog over the sea. Not great for filming with my very basic kit but very atmospheric to experience as the geese emerged from the sea mists.

The noise they make is incredible, a constant chattering building to a crescendo of honking calls as they rise from the water and swarm across the sky in their hundreds. They come in waves but look like particles. At one point what sounded like a few gunshots fired out across the bay in the distant darkness. This sudden disturbance set off a slow deep rumble which drew closer accompanied by a low dark cloud growing heavily stronger building and rising as a huge tidal wave of geese rose simultaneously into the sky in panicked disarray. Extraordinary to witness.

Birds are able to “see” Earth’s magnetic field lines and use that information for navigation. Their compass ability comes from a quantum effect in radical pairs, formed photochemically in the eyes. This light sensitive magnetic compass used by birds is affected by the polarisation direction of light. Exposure to blue light excites an electron, which causes the formation of a radical-pair whose electrons are quantum entangled, enabling the precision needed for magnetoreception.

In chemistry a radical is an unpaired electron which is can be highly chemically reactive. In the radical pair mechanism a pair of electrons with opposite spins have a chemical bond. Light can cause the electrons to change spin direction which can break the bond giving the electron a chance to react with other molecules. In magnetoreception two cryptochrome molecules, found in the rod cells in the eyes of birds, each with unpaired electrons, exist in states either with their spin axes in the same direction, or in opposite directions, oscillating rapidly between the two states. That oscillation is extremely sensitive and can detect the weak magnetic field of the Earth. Birds then move their heads to read the spin of the molecules and therefore detect the orientation of the magnetic field.

While in North Norfolk staying in a beach chalet away from light pollution I was able to make a couple of short time lapse videos centering on Polaris.

Birds can detect the slow arc of the sun and the rotation of the constellations across the sky which is imperceptible to humans and allows migrating birds to orient themselves using celestial navigation as well as magnetoreception.

Birds are also able to detect rapid movement such as individual flashes or flickering of a fluorescent light which humans see as a continuous light. Hawks which pursue other birds through dense forests at high speeds, follow the movement of their prey while avoiding branches and other obstacles. To humans travelling at this speed, the fleeing prey, branches and obstacles would just be a blur.

Gallery Visit

Thames-side Gallery ‘The Accurate Perception Available When Our Eye Becomes Single’ is an immersive multi-screen installation evoking the emotional specifics of place (Orford Ness on the Suffolk coast) while exploring the elasticity of time and history. It is an audio-visual collaboration between Richard Ducker (video) and Ian Thompson (sound) with no linear narrative; sound and image are not synchronised, so each viewing is a unique experience. Sarah Sparkes also makes an enigmatic performative appearance both in the video and live in the gallery.

The crashing sea on shingle, open spaces and brutalist bunker architecture of Orford Ness are echoed in the gallery with audio pitched to envelop and resonate but not overwhelm. Nicely done.


I really enjoy the Inside Science podcasts with Gaia Vince and this one interviewing cosmologist and theoretical physicist Laura Mersini-Houghton about finding evidence that supports her multiverse theory was particularly fascinating.

Multiverses, melting glaciers and what you can tell from the noise of someone peeing

According to Laura the single universe theory is mathematically impossible.


Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life. A remarkable reveal of an other world, so different yet so entwined with our own. Beautifully clear analogies help to bridge an understanding between human and fungi.

The ability to detect and respond to chemicals is a primordial sensory ability.

In humans when a molecule lands on our olfactory epithelium and binds to a receptor it causes nerves to fire triggering thoughts and emotional responses.

A mycelial network is one large chemically sensitive membrane: a molecule can bind to a receptor anywhere on its surface and trigger a signalling cascade that alters fungal behaviour.

Fungal lives are lived in a flood of sensory information.

They have light receptors, are sensitive to touch and it also looks like fungi may form fantastically complex networks of electrically excitable cells – a potential ‘fungal computer’ using electrical signalling as a basis for rapid communication and decision making which could learn and remember.