21 October 2019

Murals bring science to life in the city

Utrecht wall formulas kick off with mural in Burgemeester Reigerstraat

How many Utrechters are aware of the ground-breaking discoveries that have been made in their city by people who walked the very same streets? In order to raise awareness for Utrecht’s many scientific discoveries, several murals of scientific formulas will soon be appearing on walls around the city. The project was initiated by Utrecht physicists Sander Kempkes and Ingmar Swart, in collaboration with artist collective De Strakke Hand. The first mural was officially unveiled by the mayor of Utrecht on Saturday, 19 October.

 

Physicist Ingmar Swart, resident Annerie Raaijmakers and mayor Jan van Zanen

This first mural, on a building facade along the railway line at the Burgemeester Reigerstraat, portrays Buys Ballot (1817-1890), Professor at Utrecht University, who was the first to experimentally prove the Doppler effect. You can hear the Doppler effect when an ambulance or race car speeds past you: the car suddenly makes a much lower sound as it passes by.

Doppler had predicted the effect as early as 1842, but was not yet able to prove it experimentally. So when the brand-new railway line between Utrecht and Maarssen opened years later, Buys Ballot saw his chance: he borrowed a train, seated brass horn players in an open train car, and had observers along the tracks note the differences in tone. The scene has now been immortalised in the project’s first big mural.

Mayor Jan van Zanen and two of the artists from De Strakke Hand

Scientists in Utrecht

Utrecht University has a rich history of interesting and influential discoveries by researchers who have left their stamp on a wide range of fields. The methods and principles they have come up with are still used by scientists today. But Utrecht’s scientists have done much more for their city than just their research. In 1854, for example, Buys Ballot founded the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) in the building we now know as Sonnenborgh Observatory.

This mural is therefore the first in a series of paintings about influential researchers from Utrecht. The organisers are currently looking for more suitable walls, and new murals featuring scientific formulas and experiments will appear throughout Utrecht over the next few years. "I wish the city many ugly grey walls, so that they can serve as canvases," said the mayor.

The project in Utrecht was inspired by a similar project in Leiden.