The Solar Array

Meet Robert, manager of UCLA’s Drosophila Media Facility, serving up fly food for 20 labs in UCLA’s large fruit fly research community. Now meet Robert John Taylor, artist, forever exploring ways to connect us with the universe through art and technology.

QR code that connects to images captured by the SDO detector AIA 304. (photo credit: John Robert Taylor)

In his latest artistic endeavor, the Solar Array, Taylor integrates QR Code technology in pieces of art, seven colorful panels worthy of display in any gallery. QR or quick response codes are the square-shaped graphics companies use for tracking or identifying items as well as marketing products. Think of the black and white mosaic label you see on the side of a cereal box: scan it with a QR Code reader and it takes you to a picture, a video, or even a website about the cereal. Take a look at the one shown here. At a glance, the panel appears as nothing more than jumbles of painted orange squares on a tile. When this is read by a QR Code reader on your phone it connects to a website containing streaming images of the Sun collected by a NASA satellite called the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). As part of the Living With a Star program, SDO’s mission is to assess how variations in the Sun’s magnetic field produce dynamic solar energy patterns, which can affect people and technology in space and on Earth. The SDO is equipped with detectors such as the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) designed to image, over short periods of time, different features of the Sun’s magnetic field and the solar radiation it produces. Each of Taylor’s seven panels virtually connects the individual with one of these detectors via NASA’s SDO website. The panel in this article links to a rapidly updating time-lapse movie taken by the detector AIA 304. AIA 304 captures images in the ultraviolet light wavelength, highlighting the dynamics of plasma plumes just above the Sun’s surface.


The Solar Array combines media and information. Imagine a painted piece of art in a gallery. "Marry this to dynamic images from a satellite feed, established rules of science - observation by instrumentation, in which the original is accessed dynamically, virtually, being fixed to an origin but not a destination," says Taylor. QR Code technology bridges the gap between static art and newly collected scientific data. The Solar QR Codes project challenges our concepts of time, distance, and connectedness.


For Taylor, this medium transcends the traditional scientific experience. Technology gives us unprecedented access to each other, our virtual selves, and information from almost anywhere we can imagine. As he puts it, “we are deeply connected not to just one another, like [through] Facebook, but to data sources that span from the sun to the farthest reaches of the universe and from the quantum scale to the galactic. To think that it all started with a coffee pot, the first web cam.” This is in reference to the first web cam, developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge who wanted nothing more than a way to virtually monitor the status of the coffee pot they relied so heavily upon. From regular status updates on a coffee pot 25 years ago, to near real-time weather reports on the Sun, we’ve certainly come a long way with connecting to our world through technology. Maybe one day we’ll be able to take a virtual vacation in a distant galaxy through the art hanging in our living room.

-Jen Lovick
Senior Editor, Science in Entertainment, Signal to Noise Magazine
PhD, Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology


To learn more about Robert John Taylor and his projects on virtual identity, visit:, or you can contact him at


Want to scan the QR code for regular updates on solar weather? Here’s a few scanning apps to try out:



For more information on NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory and the AIA 304 detector check out:


For those curious about the origins of the webcam and the “Trojan Room Coffee Pot”: