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What the 2014 Spark EV has in common with sculptures created by a particle accelerator

By Alice Yoo

With eye-popping design, the 2014 Spark EV is a head turner no matter where you go. Add to that its 400 pound-feet of torque—which is more than that of sports cars like the Ferrari 458 Italia (398 lb-ft) and the Porsche 911 Carrera S (325 lb-ft)—and you’ve really captured our attention. The Spark EV also has the ability to go from 0 to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds, and it has a city/highway fuel economy equivalent of 119 MPGe combined.The most efficient EV in the retail market*, the Spark EV delivers on all fronts.

54-year-old Todd Johnson knows a thing or two about lightning speed. For the past six years, the Illinois-based artist has been creating “shockfossils,” 2D and 3D sculptures generated by a particle accelerator, a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel electrically-charged particles to high speeds. It takes up to 5 million volts to accelerate a beam of electrons into acrylic. The temporarily trapped electrons are then carefully released. Johnson meticulously gathers them into channels that look like everything from river deltas and plants to human lungs. As the high currents melt and fracture the acrylic, they leave a permanent record of their fractal paths.


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In 2005, Johnson first met lightning engineer and sculptor Bert Hickman, who was working on refining his own technique. After working as Hickman’s assistant on one of his production runs, Johnson was hooked. He decided to branch out, creating his own experiments as well as collaborating with others.

“I’m intrigued by the possibility of controlling energetic forces to produce aesthetically pleasing effects,” Johnson says when I ask him what he loves most about this art form. “It’s an exploration of fundamental forces of nature that normally just do what they want, but with patience and understanding they can sometimes be coaxed into a collaborative relationship. I’m an engineer by training but I’ve always enjoyed seeing and hearing artistic expression. I’ve played with a few different mediums over the years, but I always seem to be attracted to those that have a strong component of science. Previously, I created white light holography, for instance. Somewhat similar to what I’m doing now, that medium required a solid understanding of the underlying physics to be able to get the desired results. I enjoy having to tease out the secrets of the medium, and each time I push it farther than before.”

When asked how long a typical piece takes to create, Johnson replies coyly, “I could either say six months or a couple hundred nanoseconds.” While it takes months of planning and preparation before Johnson begins to work with a particle accelerator, once the device is available, the formation of the figure takes less than a millionth of a second to complete. Of course, creating this type of unique art that captures lightning and its path of melted cracks—like designing the lightning-fast Spark EV—is worth all the time in the world.

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Alice Yoo is founder and editor-in-chief of My Modern Metropolis, a place where trendspotters and art enthusiasts come to connect over creative ideas—a must-visit culture destination. Follow her on Twitter @mymodernmet or @aliceyoo.



*Based on an EPA-estimated 128 MPGe city/109 highway/119 combined and 28 kW-hrs per 100 miles. Visit fueleconomy.gov for details.


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