Anyone who has tried to put a left glove on their right hand will not only have noticed that it doesn’t fit, they will also have encountered one of nature’s basic principles: chirality. It occurs all around us in the natural world and describes bodies, or even molecules, that cannot be superimposed on their mirror image. A pair of hands is the perfect example of chirality, which is why the term is derived from the Greek for “hand” – χειρ (kheir).
To get a different perspective on chirality, it is worth paying a visit to the Max Rubner House (“House 89”), where an art installation by Ulrike Mohr on the subject of chirality has been on display since early July.
The artwork is composed of several elements; visitors will first notice the ball-and-stick model located in front of the building. The approximately three-meter high, white sculpture consists of two twin parts symbolizing chiral carvone molecules (C12 H10 O) that perfectly mirror one another. From a chemical and physical perspective the carvone isomers are identical, but their chirality makes them different: whereas one carvone isomer smells of mint, its mirror image has the scent of caraway.
As well as the sculpture, the artwork also includes a herb garden that is located on the other side of the road. Here, mint and caraway grow in flower beds that have a radial, mirror-image design. Both these herbs are age-old medicinal and culinary plants that are found in most herb and healing gardens.
Next to the lush green bunches of mint, the caraway plants look rather spindly and dry at this time of year, but visitors who go and take a closer look can see (and taste) their delicious hidden seeds.
“Händigkeit” (Chirality) was Ulrike Mohr’s winning entry in the “Kunst am Bau” (Percent for Art) competition, held in 2013 for the construction of the Max Rubner House. Buildings projects that use public funds are obliged to dedicate a certain proportion of the construction costs (around one percent) to “art in architecture”.
You can read more about the artwork in the MDC press release from February 2013 (available in German only).