Photo Essay: Multi-colored Mushroom Cloud Rises Adjacent to the Site of the Chicago Pile-1 Experiment

As a part of the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the first nuclear reaction, a pyrotechnic colorful mushroom cloud designed by artist Cai Guo-Qiang ascends from the roof of the Joseph Regenstein Library.

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The artwork starts with streaks of color shooting up into the sky.

By Adam Thorp and Feng Ye

Cai Guo-Qiang's protechnic artwork shot up into the sky around 3:25 p.m. this Saturday, 75 years after the Chicago Pile-1 reaction. The artist told UChicago News, “In the 1990s, I used black gunpowder to create mushroom clouds, humankind’s most iconic visual symbol for the 20th century. These mushroom clouds formed part of my Projects for Extraterrestrials. Today, the color mushroom cloud symbolizes the paradoxical nature of employing nuclear energy: Who is it for?”

Simultaneously, a group of students lay silently in front of the Henry Moore sculpture as a flash performance, “It does not bring its own light,” in an effort to make visible the often invisible physical and psychological effects of nuclear radiation.

A crowd gathers around the site of the CP-1 experiment, waiting for Cai Guo-Qiang’s pyrotechnic artwork to rise.
A crowd gathers around the site of the CP-1 experiment, waiting for Cai Guo-Qiang’s pyrotechnic artwork to rise. ()
The crowd waits, listening to the tolling bells.
The crowd waits, listening to the tolling bells. ()
The artwork starts with streaks of color shooting up into the sky.
The artwork starts with streaks of color shooting up into the sky. ()
As patches of color slowly dissipate, a light gray mushroom cloud rises from the roof of Regenstein Library.
As patches of color slowly dissipate, a light gray mushroom cloud rises from the roof of Regenstein Library. ()
Students lie silently by Henry Moore's Nuclear Energy sculpture as a flash performance,
Students lie silently by Henry Moore’s Nuclear Energy sculpture as a flash performance, “It does not bring its own light,” in an effort to make visible the often invisible physical and psychological effects of nuclear radiation. ()
Fourth-year Athena Kern and second-year Jay Hoshina lie on the grass during the artwork. Kern held a collage of pictures of Eckhart Hall and the bombing of Nagasaki put together by her grandfather, who once worked on the bomb at the University.
Fourth-year Athena Kern and second-year Jay Hoshina lie on the grass during the artwork. Kern held a collage of pictures of Eckhart Hall and the bombing of Nagasaki put together by her grandfather, who once worked on the bomb at the University. ()
Students find shells with remaining paint on the ground in front of Regenstein Library.
Students find shells with remaining paint on the ground in front of Regenstein Library. ()
Shells could be found on the grass around Regenstein Library after the cloud had dissipated.
Shells could be found on the grass around Regenstein Library after the cloud had dissipated. ()