Poems and posters (Day 15)

Catalytic PoemI’m not too sure how many scientists collaborate with poets, but that’s just what’s happened in Sheffield, UK.

Simon Armitage, Professor of Poetry at the University, and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Science Professor Tony Ryan, have created a catalytic poem (I think we can safely say this is a world’s first… but you never know).

So what is a catalytic poem? Well, between the pair of them, they’ve produced a huge poster of the poem called ‘In Praise of Air’. The poster material contains a formula invented at the University of Sheffield which is capable of purifying its surroundings.

In fact it can eradicate the nitrogen oxide pollution created by about 20 cars every day.

The poster is 10m x 20m and coated with microscopic pollution-eating particles of titanium dioxide which use sunlight and oxygen to react with nitrogen oxide pollutants and purify the air.

Professor Ryan says: “If every banner, flag or advertising poster in the country did this, we’d have much better air quality. It would add less than £100 to the cost of a poster and would turn advertisements into catalysts in more ways than one. The countless thousands of poster sites that are selling us cars beside our roads could be cleaning up emissions at the same time.”

This poetic story is likely to continue. Professor Ryan is campaigning to add his ingredient to washing detergent as part of his Catalytic Clothing project. He believes, If manufacturers added it, the UK would meet one of its air quality targets in one step.

The use of titanium dioxide may not be new as an anti-pollutant, but the promotion and message developed by the team at Sheffield is brilliant. And for those poetry lovers, please take time to read Simon’s Armitage’s poem below.

‘In praise of air’ by Simon Armitage

I write in praise of air. I was six or five
when a conjurer opened my knotted fist
and I held in my palm the whole of the sky.
I’ve carried it with me ever since.

Let air be a major god, its being
and touch, its breast-milk always tilted
to the lips. Both dragonfly and Boeing
dangle in its see-through nothingness…

Among the jumbled bric-a-brac I keep
a padlocked treasure-chest of empty space,
and on days when thoughts are fuddled with smog
or civilization crosses the street

with a white handkerchief over its mouth
and cars blow kisses to our lips from theirs
I turn the key, throw back the lid, breathe deep.
My first word, everyone’s first word, was air.