Simple Truths

On March 21st 2019 Castor Design and East Room’s New Auction held an exhibition called “Simple Truths” collecting recent work by Castor Design’s Science and Humanities Division. The pieces in the show are all motivated by scientific concepts. The opening was preceded by a dinner and followed by a live set by “Mothership,” a Led Zeppelin cover band.

Projects included:


A “gravity battery” is a type of machine that creates and stores energy through raising a mass and allowing it to fall. This type of machine explores the Laws of Thermodynamics, the first of which describes how energy is not created or destroyed, but is transferred from one form into another form. Here, gravitational potential energy is transferred into kinetic energy, which is then transformed into light.

Ug= mgh illustrates these principles through the controlled fall of a 200 lb cube of marble, which is used to power LED lights on a table lamp. The marble block is suspended from a pulley 10’ high. Once the marble begins its descent, it will drive a custom-machined aluminum gear set, which turns a small dynamo motor that powers the table lamp. For every rotation of the first gear, the motor turns 146 times.

The title Ug= mgh describes the formula at work. The Ug in the equation refers to gravitational potential energy. When being lifted, the marble cube is gaining gravitational potential energy, since work is required to elevate the object against gravity. At its peak, the object possesses its maximum gravitational potential energy. Then mgh is the relationship between the object’s mass, its acceleration due to gravity, and the height it falls from. The gravitational potential energy is converted into kinetic energy as the mass is raised and then through its fall.

It takes the marble block roughly 10 to 14 minutes to fall completely, depending on the motor’s distance from the final gear. At which point, the weight will need to be cranked back up to the top again. Mechanical advantage of the crank allows the user to easily reset the machine.

Cloud Chamber

An electric Cloud Chamber that shows the trails of electrons and other subatomic particles through a vapour cooled down to -40°C. A cloud
chamber is a particle detector used for visualizing the passage of ionizing radiation. A charged particle interacts with the vapour by knocking electrons off gas molecules during collisions, resulting in a trail of ionized gas particles. Using a Van de Graaff generator in the vicinity of the cloud chamber will result in shockwave-like patterns through the vapour. The ability to view these trails reveals some truth about the universe.

Two to the power of Seventy Four Million Two Hundred and Seven Thousand Two Hundred Eighty One minus One

M74207281 is the largest known prime number. Represented in scientific notation, the number is 2^74207281-1. Written out, the number is “two to the power of seventy-four million, two hundred seven thousand, two hundred eighty-one, minus one.” Found in January 2016 by the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search, it is 22.3 million digits long.

The Two to the power of Seventy Four Million Two Hundred and Seven Thousand Two Hundred Eighty One minus One books are part of Castor Design’s continued exploration of scientific and mathematical principles; presenting universal truths in a simple, elegant way. Past projects with Castor’s Science and Humanities division have included an electron accelerator, a particle cloud chamber, and lighting projects using the wireless transfer of electricity. Brian Richer of Castor Design conceived of the books, which were designed with Alex Durlak of Perish Publishing. The books are part of a series that also includes a 50’ long poster at 2 pt font, t-shirts with the book’s title, and an Instagram feed @M74207281Prime posting 4900 digits of the number each day, complete in 2030.

A prime number is a natural number that has no positive divisor other than 1 and its itself, e.g. 2, 3, 5, 7, etc. They play an important role in pure mathematics and its applications. Though we have spent centuries working with prime numbers, their true nature and distribution remain a mystery. Based on Euclid’s postulate using the sequence of known prime numbers as building blocks for the larger primes that follow, we know that there are an infinite number of primes. However, they strangely occur less frequently as they get larger. German mathematician Bernhard Riemann observed that the frequency of prime numbers is very closely related to the behaviour of an elaborate function called the Riemann Zeta function: The Riemann hypothesis asserts that all solutions of the equation lie on a certain vertical straight line. A proof that would explain the distribution of prime numbers is one of the last great unsolved mathematics puzzles.

Each of the volumes of 2^74207281-1 is over 1300 pages long for a combined total of 3982 pages of the number’s digits. Despite the apparent randomness of prime numbers, the digits have significance whether we recognize the numbers as prime or not. G.H. Hardy wrote, “317 is a prime number not because we think so, or because our minds are shaped in one way or another but because it is so, because mathematical reality is built that way.”

Like the books in Borges’ Library of Babel whose seemingly random letters and punctuation served as building blocks for the basis of language and the universe, the digits within 2^74207281-1 reveal the universe’s mathematical structure. Everything in the universe, including humanity, is part of this structure. All matter is made of particles which have properties of charge and spin; these properties are essentially mathematical. Notwithstanding their apparent simplicity and fundamental character, prime numbers remain one of the most mysterious objects studied by mathematicians. The impossible task of the series is to present the number in such a way that it may reveal some insight into the nature of prime numbers.

Book Details
274207281-1 is published by Perish Publishing, Toronto in 2017. It is printed in a limited edition of ten, two artist’s copies and one display copy. This book is designed by Alex Durlak of Perish Publishing and Brian Richer of Castor Design. It was edited and set into type at Standard Form, then printed by Copywell and bound by Anstey Bindery in Toronto. Each edition is held by a honed Carrara marble bookend with a black reflective face.

The book is 7” by 10.5”, a ratio that follows the classic harmonic 2 : 3 proportions. The margin proportions follow the common medieval structure of 2 : 3 : 4 : 6. The cases are wrapped in white book cloth and the binding features black edge colouring, black
headbands and black endpapers. The covers and spine are printed on a letterpress in black and the colophon is printed on a letterpress in metallic silver on the endpapers. The inside pages were printed on a web inkjet press in black on Bible paper.

The titling face is Bauer Bodoni by Heinrich Jost for the Bauer Foundry in 1926 and is based upon a serif cut by Giambattista Bodoni in 1798. The body face is Figgins Sans by Nick Shinn for Shinntype and is based upon a series of sans serifs cut by the V. & J. Figgins foundry in 1836. The paper is Ethos Uncoated Inkjet, made at the Appleton Coated mill in Combined Locks, Wisconsin.

“Liberace x Flavin” – AZ Awards 2016

The “Liberace x Flavin” installation is a music and light performance for Azure Magazine’s 2016 AZ Awards. Hundreds of fluorescent tubes between six and ten feet tall are set up around a grand piano, lit wirelessly through induction in the same vein as a Tesla coil. The light sculpture is sound-sensitive; its mass of fluorescent tubes activate based on a concert pianist’s performance. Each note adjusts the brightness of the sculpture’s bulbs.

Pianist: Amy Seulky Lee.
Photography: Peter Lusztyk.
Videography: Peter Lusztyk, Chris Clifford.

Particle Accelerator

​“Nature Abhors a Vacuum”

Despite our growing familiarity with particle accelerators like CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, for most of us the idea of a particle accelerator is still abstract. Castor Design have produced their take on the particle accelerator in an effort to make the science behind the concept more approachable.

The Castor Design particle accelerator is based on research by physicist JJ Thomson at Cambridge in 1897. Thomson is credited with discovering the electron while passing a cathode ray between two electrodes in a glass vacuum tube. Castor’s particle accelerator operates in the same way.

With consideration given to the accelerator’s design, its hand-blown glass tube with machined electrodes is displayed on top of a black marble base with an overhanging shade. Its transformer and vacuum are presented alongside, housed in custom component boxes.

When electrical current is activated and a enough of a vacuum has been formed within the tube in order for electrons to travel without striking a molecule of gas, low­-mass particles accelerate to 30% of the speed of light, which strike other atoms and give off light as they settle.

The arced plasma light quickly stabilizes and “flows” in a straight line across the centre of the tube. As gas molecules undergo more collisions, emission wavelengths appear separated out into plasma bands, demonstrating the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. More columns indicate that the electrons’ energy in a given state is less defined. When the vacuum dissipates, the plasma reaches its extinction point and scatters.

CU Exhibition

CU is part of Toronto Design Week and is an exploration into the properties of copper. The show is part of a larger event put on by Endless City and is located at 1161 Dundas St. W. Toronto. Programming ranges from talks on the state of design infrastructure in Canada, video installations, an OCAD student competition, and a dinner with edible copper on the menu.

Copper has been in use for 10,000 years, yet over 97% of the mineral mined had already been extracted from the earth by 1910; as such, any new use of copper in product, art, architecture and industry has been the result of perpetual recycling. The metal has become an overused material in design over the past few years, a trend that continues to gain momentum. The CU exhibition takes a different approach. Through a process called electroforming, Castor has utilized old pieces of copper pipe and dissolved them in order to grow metal onto organic, non-metallic materials in a charged bath. The work is based in science as much as in design, using Faraday’s Law (the relationship between the weight, electrical current, and time) to create something entirely new. The process of electroplating gives each piece a unique texture and a painterly quality; dendritic crystallization is controlled through change in electrical current. Alongside scientific processes, Castor used various forms of manufacturing – from glass blowing, stone carving, 3D printing, and laser cutting. Science is cool.

Calcium Oxide

The four geometric sculptures, hand carved out of limestone, are changed on a molecular level. This is due to the thermal decomposition of limestone (CaCO3) in a lime kiln. What appear as objects slowly decomposing is accomplished by heating the material to above 825 °C, a process called calcination. This process drives off the carbon dioxide (CO2); leaving quicklime. The quicklime (CaO) is not stable and, when cooled, will spontaneously react with CO2 from the air until, after enough time, it will be completely converted back to calcium carbonate unless slaked with water to set as lime plaster or lime mortar. This process is called the Lime Cycle. Further exploration of this series converting hand carved tracery window from St. Michael’s Cathedral into calcium oxide and making plaster combined with finely grounded marble dust mixed with water used as a medium to paint. By changing the forms completely from the original pieces of work into flat two dimensional wall pieces.

Crystal Chandelier – TIFF 2012

TIFF Bell Lightbox (Toronto)
Materials : Brass Chandeliers, copper sulphate, plaster

Each chandelier was wrapped in plaster gauze and submerged in copper sulphate until crystals formed. An accompanying video was also made showing the formation of crystals under a microscope.

Pope Joan Chair – Toronto IDS 2011

Pope Joan is a legendary female Pope who supposedly reigned for a few years some time thought to be between 853–855 AD. The story first appeared in the writings of 13th-century chroniclers, and subsequently spread through Europe. To understand why there’s a hole in the seat of the chair, we recommend you read about Pope Joan here.