We are delighted to announce the installation of the recent sculpture ‘The Worlds of If’ by artist Sara Barker. The title is in reference to the possibilities that open up when scientists and engineers work together and share ideas. 

The sculpture has been installed on the side of the Sir William Henry Bragg building, a new engineering and physical sciences development at the University. The building is named after Sir William Henry Bragg, whose pioneering research at the University in the early 1900s won a Nobel Prize and unlocked some of the biggest discoveries in modern science.  

The artwork is monumental in size, measuring seven metres by just over six metres and is positioned more than four metres above the ground.  

“Sara Barker’s striking artwork is a vibrant reminder of the Nobel Prize winning contribution of the Braggs in ‘the analysis of crystal structures by means of X-rays’ and the power of science in shaping modern society.” 


‘The Worlds of If” © Sara Barker. Image credit, University of Leeds

The conceptually intricate artwork has been created so that as people walk around the sculpture, the symbols that represent that research are gradually revealed – the Bragg equation: nλ = 2 d sin θ.     

In 1915 William Henry Bragg, then Cavendish Professor of Physics at the University of Leeds, and his son William Lawrence Bragg were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for their work in establishing the nature of X-ray spectra and the principles of crystal analysis. Scientists in Germany had already discovered that a beam of X-rays is diffracted or bends as it passes through a crystal. The Braggs realised that they could work backwards from that finding. By measuring how the X-rays scattered, they would be able to reveal the atomic structure of the crystal. That research resulted in the Bragg Equation – and a technique called X-ray crystallography.      

The notebook in which the Braggs recorded the results of their ground-breaking experiments carried out in the summer of 1913 is held in Special Collections at the University of Leeds. Click here to find out more. 

‘The Worlds of If” © Sara Barker. Image credit, University of Leeds

The installation is an exceptionally fine composition, made from lightweight welded aluminium and iridescent paints, which allows parts of the structure to take on a different colour depending on the angle it is viewed from. 

Sara Barker trained at the Glasgow School of Art, painting department in 2003, where she now teaches. She currently has a solo exhibition at Leeds Art Gallery until the end of September 2020. Her forthcoming solo exhibition at Cample Line, Dumfriesshire, opens in October 2020. 

Barker said: “It felt it was like a real opportunity to try something different in my work, a curve ball that might activate or completely transform the work in different lighting, while representing in some sense the powerful and creative crossovers between specialisms that happen all the time amongst academics and scientists in the building.    

“I want the work to sit between the qualities of drawing, collage, textile, painting and sculpture, and its meaning and derivation to be correspondingly subjective and open to our interpretation.” 

The new work ‘The Worlds of If’ joins the extensive range of the Public Art Collection on the University of Leeds campus. Public art enhances the experience of students, staff, local communities and visitors, and reflects the academic research themes and learning activities of University life. Other artworks on the Public Art Trail include Barbara Hepworth’s Dual Form and Henry Moore’s Three Piece Reclining Figure No2: Bridge Prop. Discover more about the Public Art trail here.