Charles Babbage Memorial Flight and Payload


Artist: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Dates: TBD

Installation Location: Flight Performance on Arts Quad; Installation in Sibley Hall Dome

Hours of accessibility: 9 AM - 5 PM, Monday thru Friday

The Charles Babbage Memorial Flight and Payload is an art performance in which an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) will drop millions of nano scale leaflets over Cornell University’s Arts Quad. Each leaflet is made out of 24 carat gold and nano-etched with a quote from Babbage's 1838 book "The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise", wherein the influential English inventor posits that the atmosphere is a vast library with recordings of everything that has ever been said.

While the gold leaflets will be dropped within a circumscribed area of campus, they are bound to remain airborne and travel many miles away from the site depending on atmospheric conditions. Although biologically inert, the drop of invisible documents brings to mind both current controversies in the medical and environmental use of nano technology and concerns over who controls access to information in the public sphere. Fabricated at Cornell's NanoScale Science and Technology Facility (CNF) to be as small as is logistically feasible, the leaflets are less than 1 micrometre in length and width, or more than 100 times smaller than the width of a human hair. 

The possibility for environmental or health concerns over the assumed hazards of breathable gold, its distribution using remote control technology, the military precedents of "propaganda pamphlet bombs" and "micro-filmed information", the artistic tradition of "Sky Art", are all integral parts of the project. The flight will be documented in real-time by cameras on board the UAV as well as on the ground, which will be represented together as a video under Sibley dome. The dome itself will be animated by a smoke machine which contains hazer fluid with millions of engraved-gold leaflets. A vial of the nano leaflets will also be on view as testimony to Babbage’s prescient understanding of information space.