Monday, 9 July 2007

A Missed Wonder & 7 Postcards

So with the unveiling of the new "Seven Wonders of the World" inexplicably getting more publicity than it really should and germinating from a Dubious (yes, capital D) process, I was reminded of a recent modern wonder that is among many incredible structures built in the name of science, the Super-Kamiokande neutrino observatory in Japan.

1000 meters underground in a disused mine, consisting of 50,000 tons of pure heavy water, 11,200 photomultiplier tubes, 41.4 meters tall, and 39.3 meters across, the Super-Kamiokande's purpose is hard to grasp (neutrino observation) but its beauty both in terms of aesthetics and theory is not.

So where does science fall into the public's conscience in terms of "wonder"? The world's larger satellite arrays could easily dwarf the Taj Majal (not that that's hard to do), but are we resistant to accepting something utilitarian as beautiful? Or something sourced from science as art?

Take for example, photographer Felice Frankel who revolutionized scientific photography but doesn't feel her works merit being called art. She cites that they don't sell and have no emotional investment as they simply record phenomena. Edward Winkleman has the full story on his blog.

Returning to the original "New Seven Wonders" (Does that not sound like a new cola or boy band?), it is undeniably flawed. Did everyone voting visit all these wonders? Or consider the creator's motivation? Or even simply think about why a list like this is even necessary?

UNESCO has stated the following in regard to the "New Seven":

In order to avoid any damaging confusion, UNESCO wishes to reaffirm that there is no link whatsoever between UNESCO’s World Heritage programme, which aims to protect world heritage, and the current campaign concerning “The New 7 Wonders of the World”.

This campaign was launched in 2000 as a private initiative by Bernard Weber, the idea being to encourage citizens around the world to select seven new wonders of the world by popular vote.

Although UNESCO was invited to support this project on several occasions, the Organizaton decided not to collaborate with Mr. Weber.

UNESCO’s objective and mandate is to assist countries in identifying, protecting and preserving World Heritage. Acknowledging the sentimental or emblematic value of sites and inscribing them on a new list is not enough. Scientific criteria must be defined, the quality of candidates evaluated, and legislative and management frameworks set up. The relevant authorities must also demonstrate commitment to these frameworks as well as to permanently monitoring the state of conservation of sites. The task is one of technical conservation and political persuasion. There is also a clear educational role with respect to the sites’ inherent value, the threats they face and what must be done to prevent their loss.

There is no comparison between Mr Weber’s mediatised campaign and the scientific and educational work resulting from the inscription of sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The list of the “7 New Wonders of the World” will be the result of a private undertaking, reflecting only the opinions of those with access to the internet and not the entire world. This initiative cannot, in any significant and sustainable manner, contribute to the preservation of sites elected by this public.

Kamioka Observatory
Super-Kamiokande wiki
Felice Frankel (MIT)
Edward Winkleman blog

* Title image composited from photographs credited to Kamioka Observatory, ICRR(Institute for Cosmic Ray Research), The University of Tokyo, originally found on Pruned

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