Artist: Owen Fernley
Scientist: Dr. Kevin Mumford
Artist Statement

We are all living on the surface of a permeable planet. What goes up must come down, but perhaps more disconcerting, is what goes in.

When chemicals like gasoline, creosote and PCB’s are improperly disposed of or spilled, they leach into the ground and contaminate our soil and groundwater, spreading out below us in unseen ways. Pollution does not simply flow through the ground the way it does on the surface. It is under pressure, and moves through very small spaces. Understanding this movement can be challenging, and leads us to an important series of experiments designed to inform how we might model this movement in the future.

When sand is compressed between two panes of glass, intricate maze-like pathways are formed between each grain. This is the space between the sand. The resulting sections are only 14 grains deep, yet gases, fluids and pollutants move through them in many surprising and beautiful ways. Observing this movement provides scientists and engineers with the data they need to predict and prevent the spread of underground contamination, as well as develop technologies to clean it up.

Between the Sand is an interactive computer program that invites us to explore how our actions affect the ground beneath our feet. It builds a maze of pathways between grains of virtually generated sand. Initiated by the viewer, the maze is “solved” using Invasion Percolation, an algorithm infamous throughout the research group for only following predetermined pathways. In Between the Sand, this algorithm is used to present a relationship between direct human action and our unseen subterranean environment. And with that, we can observe the unobservable.