One of the beautiful things about science fiction is the way new worlds and technologies are often used as a mirror to show us things about the real-world: our societies, our expectations, and ourselves. My art piece, “The Shrike”, is named after the mysterious, deadly creature of the same name in the sci-fi series, Hyperion, written by Dan Simmons. In the series, the Shrike is a metallic-thorn-adorned being with unknown motivations, working silently while appearing to defy the known laws of time and space. The narrators of the story know very little about the beast or how to deal with it, regardless of their backgrounds or knowledge relevant to the situation. Great fear holds our protagonists back, but also propels them forwards to conquer a truth and find answers in both the universe and             within their own lives.

My submission is a triptych depicting jagged phenanthrene crystals as seen through an optical microscope, then colourized into a striking red hue. The abstract nature of this work aims to evoke both curiosity and hesitation in the viewer, where making sense of what one is seeing is not necessarily straightforward. The sharp, rugged lines of crystal edges dominate through the piece, while select faces present with a bright shine towards the viewer. In these highlights, subtle rainbow diffraction is visible. Shadows sit quietly behind this shining forefront, blurred in focus and difficult to discern.

Returning to my inspiration of the worlds in Hyperion, I saw its narrative and antagonist as a wonderful metaphor for science (particularly research) in the way that it actually occurs. Though we may have expectations and plans, mistakes and surprises occur at what feels like a much more regular interval than our envisioned milestones. These events can be rough and disorienting, like finding the finite edges of a visually-boundless crystal. However, It is often in these alternate paths that the most interesting breakthroughs occur, though challenging us in unusual and unforeseen ways. Much like the characters in Hyperion searching for — and subsequently standing up to — the Shrike, as scientists we must push into the unknown and face failures to find our ultimate answers.

In our approach to performing (frequently imperfect) science, many of us encounter a dissonance. When rooted within reality beyond the idyllic, we oft experience a confusing mixture of excitement, doubt, frustration, and optimism. Additionally, it is not to say that our experiences and roles as ones seeking answers are wholly good or bad, easy or hard, worthwhile or futile, but instead complex and surprising. We find some motivation and drive to keep these fires burning, using this to find the confidence to step into that dark unknown and face our own Shrike, whatever that entails.

Sincere thanks to Louise Dawe, Vance Williams, and Brian Wagner for organizing the ChemiSTEAM event, and advocating for chemistry communication in such a fun way. Honoured to be a participant and get the chance to share some creative work alongside my research.