Article categories: Scientific Serendipity
March 17th, 2010

Adam Donovan is a 27 year-old Brisbane artist working in the area of acoustic and visual art. In September 2001 he began a ten-week residency at Defence Science Technology Organisation (DSTO), based in South Australia. The project was initiated by the Australian Network of Art and New Technology (ANAT) and is the first time the Defence Department has hosted an artist-in-residence.

Adam Donovan is at the forefront of developing new and innovative methods of incorporating applied physics into artistic work. A sculpture graduate of the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University (1994) his work has been exhibited at the Queensland Art Gallery, the Institute of Modern Art (Queensland) and the Pratt Institute (New York). Adam is currently developing public artworks for the New Farm River Walk Project (commissioned by the Brisbane City Council).

Adam’s artist in residency is part of Scientific Serendipity; a scheme facilitates the marriage of art, science and technology and has proved fertile ground for artistic and scientific collaboration.

The Maritime Operations Division (MOD) of DSTO is facilitating Adam’s art/technology research by sharing its expertise and knowledge in acoustics. Here he has conducted research into the development of parametric acoustic arrays. These ‘acoustic lenses’ focus highly directional ultrasound, which is demodulated by its passage through air to produce audible sounds that can only be heard within a narrow 3D beam over a range of some 200 metres. MOD is one of the few research organisations in Australia to work extensively with ultrasound as part of their sonar technology research.

“This is the best science lab I have worked in,” says Adam. “I wish I could be a permanent artist in residence at DSTO, moving about from lab to lab.”

At MOD Adam has set up a small lab and has access to MOD scientists and equipment. He pays particular tribute to the stimulation and advice he has received from MOD researchers such as Dr Henry Lew, Binh Nguyen and Joe Cashel. Adam says that thanks to these people his design has completely changed since his arrival at DSTO. “I came with a concept and about ten articles on parametric acoustic array lensing effects. Now I have a complete idea of the problem and the range of technical solutions available to me.”

“Adam’s concept of sound projection from multiple sources and spatial sensitivity to listeners is novel,” says Dr D. (Nanda) Nandagopal, Chief, Maritime Operations Division. “This kind of artist-scientist fusion of ideas stimulates innovation and certainly has useful spin-offs for us. I favour such activities because they encourage defence scientists to think ‘outside of the box’.”

The artwork that has been the focus of Adam’s time at DSTO is to be exhibited in conVerge: where art and science meet; the 2002 Biennial Exhibition of Australian Art’, part of the 2002 Adelaide Festival program. It will include two acoustic lenses linked to a robotic tracking system to follow viewers of the exhibition and create an interactive installation of acoustic and visual projections.

Adam says that he has been using an art/science approach since around 1993. He earlier worked with optical lensing but he has now moved into acoustics. Initially his audio work used parabolics to achieve lensing effects, but these were nowhere near as effective or exciting as the parametric acoustic devices he is now working with.

“This is possibly the biggest development in loudspeaker design in 75 years,” says Adam. “Its history goes back to 1934 when the parametric effect was first discovered, but only in last ten years has the technology become available that makes its application possible. Acoustic lenses have tremendous potential in virtual reality environments but there is still no parametric acoustic array commercially available anywhere in the world.”

The following article was printed in Australian Defence Science magazine (Vol 10, #1, 2002). ANAT wishes to thank the editor for permission to reprint the article and associated images.

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