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Celebrating the Metamorphosis: A Review of Blue Morph at RPI’s West Hall

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A Review of Blue Morph at RPI

Blue Morph at RPI. Photo by Aubree CutkompWhat does the metamorphosis of the blue morpho from chrysalis to butterfly sound like, you ask? Well, nothing. But the shell of the chrysalis vibrates, and using a tiny mirror, a laser and the advancements of nanotechnology, it sounds like a sick animal in pain. In more eloquent terms, it’s primordial and haunting. As out there as this exhibit may be, it’s an experience to hear the labored struggle of the chrysalis becoming the magnificent blue morpho butterfly.

Blue Morph is a site-specific interactive installation that uses nanoscale images and sounds derived from the journey of a blue morpho chrysalis into a butterfly. Site-specific meaning, the exhibit’s nanoscientist Professor James Gimzewski and media artist and UCLA Professor Victoria Vesna have been showing their brainchild butterfly exhibit around the world since 2007, and each temporary home, whether it be Seville, Spain; Joshua Tree, California or in RPI’s West Hall, is a somewhat different experience.

As I made my way up West Hall’s stairs, I didn’t know exactly what I was expecting, (maybe a large room with auditorium-like seating), but was surprised to find Room 111 to be a small, unassuming classroom. I could hear people on the floor, but was relieved to find the darkened room empty. Shades were covering the windows, and the only light was that produced by a projector. I closed the door and followed the directions of a sign by the door: Please sit or stand on the platform, to experience the installation.

I sat down and placed a crocheted, net-like, mad-hatter’s hat on. Instantly the platform illuminated, images popped up on the screen in front of me, and agonizing, pulsating sounds were amplified through the several speakers around me. It startled me (that’s an understatement, it scared the hell out of me), I wasn’t sure if I broke something or what was going on, but once my pulse slowed and I got my bearings, I started to experience the process of the butterfly’s metamorphosis.

Imagine futuristic whales in pain. That’s the only way I can describe it. It’s unsettling, bewildering and strangely beautiful.

The literature that accompanies the exhibit says, “We tend to imagine butterflies as silent creatures, [but] they in fact generate intense inaudible noise when in the process of change…We discover the change does not happen gradually…but is a sudden, intense surge of energy that is destructive and creative simultaneously.” This is very true. Butterflies are envisioned as delicate, airy insects and chances are you’d expect the process of their metamorphosis to be graceful and effortless as well. But as the sounds will attest, it is not; it’s arduous and painful. It is not so easy to become such a magnificent creature.

Why the Blue Morpho butterfly? Beyond their obvious beauty and mesmerizing color, it’s the why behind their renowned hue. With the use of advanced optics, it’s been discovered that their bright blue color is actually not a pigment at all, but a color produced by thousands of semitransparent scales that filter the color blue from our visible color spectrum, a process of patterns formed by nano.

The Blue Morpho butterfly has fascinated scientists for generations because of its optical illusion-like wings. They have a lamellate and tetrahedral structure (thin and flat and diamond-like) and the colors produced change depending on the angle in which you’re looking at them. The structure of the wing scales have aided in the studies of dye-free paints, used as a model in the development of fabrics, and in anti-counterfeit technology.

Blue Morph at RPI. Photo Courtesy of RPIWith nanotechnology, these advancements (specifically the ones made within the study of the blue morpho) are making the invisible, visible and the inaudible, audible. Beyond the scientific reasons the blue morpho has been used in studies, in a metaphorical sense, the metamorphosis of a chrysalis into a butterfly represents a collective shift in consciousness. What is visualized in the exhibit’s experience, mirrors the ups and downs of our current financial markets and middle eastern revolutions in crisis; a “collective feeling of ‘butterflies in our stomachs’– a nervous anticipation of the metamorphosis of the human experience on this planet.”

Professors Vesna and Gimzewski ask you to open your mind with their exhibit; “with all the noise of chattering technologies and minds…we propose the interactivity to be still in [this] empty space of nano…to get in touch with the magic of continuous change, [and] most of all, [to] embrace the absurd and in a surge of laughter recognize our limited human viewpoints.”

Blue Morph runs through April 15. Hours are Monday-Friday 10am-4:30pm. If you’d like to learn more about the exhibit, there will be a lecture in the Biotech Auditorium on Tuesday, April 12th at 7pm.

For more information, visit:

–Aubree Cutkomp is an Assistant Editor for The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our new City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.





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