Imperfect Images of Transuranic Metals

Available on fxhash

Transuranic elements occupy that thin, narrow part of the periodic table that is snipped out of the main body and rendered beneath it. They are fleeting, transient elements, their existences dependent upon artifice and manipulation. Particle accelerators force particles into unnatural configurations; nuclear explosions tear apart the fabric of atoms, or the inhospitable environment of a reactor provides fertile ground to birth these unstable and dangerous materials.

‘Imperfect Images of Transuranic Metals’ continues the themes begun in ‘The Last Days of Fire and Steel’ and ‘Mapped Orbits for Unbound Electrons’; the continuation of a minor obsession with the darker side of particle physics.

The Generative Process

Beyond the story, the process by which the piece is generated is a subtle dance of chaos and probability. Three variables control the structure of each molecule, which is generated in a 3D space.

The molecules are fashioned from a grid arrangement, extending in varying fashions along the x-, y- and z-axis. Each segment of the molecule varies in size, and has the possibility of being rendered as a sphere, cube or cone. Probabilities are manipulated to group these possibilities, actively forming the shape of the molecule and avoiding a mere random cloud.

After its creation, the molecule is flattened down to two dimensions at a chosen angle, and shading and drop-shadows are added to simulate a reflective metal surface. Some colour is added, but the piece is generally close to monochrome.

The whole render takes place in p5js, with no external libraries or shaders.


Imperfect Images of Transuranic Metals is available on fxhash.

An expository tweet:

I have taken liberties in ‘Imperfect Images of Transuranic Metals’, hence them being imperfect. I don't know what transuranic elements look like under an electron microscope, but I dimly remember a chemistry textbook from my school days, showing immensely zoomed-in images of what purported to be atoms.

The whole ‘Last Days’/‘Mapped Orbits’/‘Boundary Conditions’ series is based around a disastrous experiment with a particle accelerator, and ‘Imperfect Images’ fits into that. You can glean much of the story from the three pieces, but there's also a narrative that expounds things in slightly more detail, a transmission included in ‘Mapped Orbits’, a poem in ‘Boundary Conditions’ and there's also a hidden snippet in ‘Imperfect Images’ that I'm not going to spoil just yet. It's not hard to find.

Anyway the whole conceit of ‘Imperfect Images’ was based on these nebulous electron microscope images of atoms, such as they are. Transuranic elements are, of course, sinister and exciting, and they get a mention in the opening to the TV programme ‘Sapphire and Steel’, so, you know they had to be used. Of course, “transuranic elements may not be used where there is organic life”, as the mysterious voice-over tells us. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned…