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Salt bridges: fluid interactions between artists and scientists in the lab, Department of New Biochemistry, Oxford
  1. M Wallace
  1. Professor M Wallace, University of the Arts, 29 Chepstow Road, London W2 5BP, UK; marina{at}

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A salt bridge in chemistry is a laboratory device used to connect the oxidation and reduction half-cells of a galvanic cell, a type of electrochemical cell. As electrons leave one half of a galvanic cell and flow to the other, a difference in charge is established. If no salt bridge was used, this charge difference would prevent further flow of electrons. A salt bridge allows the flow of electrons to maintain a balance in charge between the oxidation and reduction vessels while keeping the contents of each separate. With the charge difference balanced, electrons can flow once again, and the reduction and oxidation reactions can proceed.

Salt bridges at the Department of Biochemistry in Oxford is a project that involves contemporary art works developed for the new Biochemistry building as an art commission, part of a major capital project. A science consultant worked in partnership with the department’s art consultant to develop a practical plan that used Salt bridges as a resource for communicating with new audiences about science, art and architecture.

By appointing artists at the embryonic stages of the design of the building and engaging them in the intellectual life of the department, the project aimed to produce a truly collaborative programme, delivering a body of work embracing experimentation, inter-disciplinary discourse and the exchange of ideas.

The aims of the programme, as declared early on by the committee, were those of

creating an outstanding contemporary art collection within a world-class scientific research department, of facilitating inter-disciplinary discourse between artists and scientists, of involving artists in the intellectual life of the department and, finally, of providing new approaches and resources for public engagement with science and art.

My visit to the building proved that all this, and more, was achieved. If the definition of a salt bridge above is …

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  • Competing interests: None.

  • All photographs credited to Marina Wallace.