Painting Energies Podcast

Painting Energies is a podcast about light, colour, plants, microbes, and electrical energy. Eleven conversations with invited guests explore their relations, and our relations to them, through a dialogue across science, technology, art and philosophy.
Logo of the Paintint Energies Podcast showing overlapping abstract shapes that resemble paint patches on a painter's color palette.

The topics of the conversations emerge from a transdiscplinary artscience research process that took place in Aalto University since 2017 and led to creation of a unique solar panel painting. In the artwork, plant-based colorants hand-painted on glass convert light to electricity while interpreting the colours and patterns of an iconic painting by J.M.W. Turner. In the process of making and thinking, we came across many observations and questions that we wish to share with you through moments of focus and joyful reflection.

We recommend to first watch the 15 min documentary film below. The film tells about the artwork and the artscience journey that led to it, and introduces the hosts.

The podcast is hosted by Janne Halme (physicist) and Bartaku (artist researcher).

Listen to the podcast in Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.


Screenshot of a smartphone app measuring the color coordinates of the Sun in the sky (RGB: 255 255 255, CMYK 0 0 0 0, "White", "Bright White").
The Colour of the Sun is not Round.  Photo by Bartaku (ColorAssist app; Baroa b. plantation, Latvia, 2016 ).

#0 Introducing - with Janne Halme and Bartaku

In this episode the hosts Janne Halme and Bartaku introduce themselves and the podcast. They tell about the co-creation process that led to the podcast, and exchange thoughts, wishes and expectations about the forthcoming episodes.

Bartaku tells how he got the inspiration for working with the plant Aronia melanocarpa, why he calls it Baroa Belaobara and the berryapple, and how its connection to the iconic painting by JMW Turner emerged. We hear about the poetic aspects that pulled Bartaku to work with the plant and how the Aamo artsience group formed.

Janne tells how he started working on dye-sensitized solar cells, what motivated him to study them as a physicist, and how he learned the craft of making and measuring the cells. In the conversation, Janne asks Bartaku how he felt about working with the more technological version of the solar cell, and Bartaku asks Janne how his colleagues have perceived his collaboration with an artist.

The hosts anticipate some of the topics for the forthcoming episodes, including the notion of `bio´ solar cell, the use of plant-based colorants in the solar cell, and the function of the human visual system and the perception of colours. In a broader perspective, they wish to converse with their guests on the poetic, aesthetic and bioethical aspects of technology, and the institutional and administrative conditions required for successful art-science collaboration.

Listen to the podcast in Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

A researcher taking electrical measurements from the dye-sensitizd solar cell artwork
Testing electrical performance of Aronia m. dye painted glass solar cells. Photo by Janne Halme (2020).

#1 Dye-sensitized solar cells - with Anders Hagfeldt

In this episode, our guest is Professor Anders Hagfeldt. Anders is considered one of the world’s leading researchers in dye-sensitized solar cells. By developing new synthetic dyes and electrolyte reduction-oxidation pairs and studying their function at the molecular scale, his research teams have significantly improved the efficiency of dye solar cells and the understanding of how they work. He is currently Vice-Chancellor of Uppsala University and Professor of Physical Chemistry.

In 2005 Janne worked as a visiting doctoral student in Anders's research group at KTH in Stockholm, where he learned the craft of making and measuring dye solar cells better. In the episode we hear what made Anders interested in photoelectrochemistry and become a PhD student, and how he learned to build dye solar cells at EPFL in Switzerland under Michael Grätzel and Brian O’Regan in 1990 - at the time of their breakthrough discovery of the modern dye-sensitized solar cell.

We discuss why natural dyes are less durable than synthetic dyes and how the solar cell protects them from degradation by light. We share stories about how inspiring and rewarding it is to make solar cells with your own hands, and discuss how scientific breakthroughs are most often made, what accidental discoveries he and his team has made, and where does the dye-sensitized solar cell technology stand today. Among many other things, we ponder why combining scientific and artistic careers is difficult, how the creativity of young researchers can best be supported, and how research and improvisation music are alike.

More about the guest: Prof. Anders Hagfelt / Uppsala University

Listen to the podcast in Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Aronia m. dye-painted titanium dioxide photoelectode glass for the Blck Vlvt solar panel, cell B6, undergoing the excess dye removal step.
Cleaning Aronia m. dye-painted TiO2 nanoparticle canvas B6 ready for solar cell assembly for the Blck Vlvt solar panel. Photo by Janne Halme (Aalto University, 2020).

#2 Colour - with Sini Vihma

In this episode we meet visual artist Sini Vihma. Sini teaches theory and practice in colour and perception in the Transdisciplinary Art Studies (TAITE), in the Department of Art in Aalto University, with focus on contemporary art, particularly painting. She is a board member of Finnish Colour Association.

Our conversation with Sini meanders through many aspects of human color perception from the technical and scientific to the biological, physiological, and psychological as well as philosophical. What is colour brightness, lightness, contrast, gamut, saturation, and hue? How do the properties of the light, the object and its surroundings, and the viewer affect the colour perception? How does Sini teach these topics?

We ponder do humans remember colors well. And how can('t) an artist ensure that her colors look the same in a gallery as they did in her studio. Janne learns about the concept of local color and how people differ in their sensitivity to see it; Sini is amazed about the Blck Vlvt solar cell painting technique.

Sini tells how she became a painter and a teacher and how her relationship with colour developed over the years; Bart talks about his present-in-the-moment when painting the cells, and his corresponding approach to artscience practice overall - his intention to create biotopes where beautiful coincides can happen.

More about Sini and her works in her online gallery and Aalto profile.

Listen to the podcast in Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Aronia m. leaves in the spring
Aronia m. leaves in spring light. Photo by Janne Halme (2018).

#3 Sunlit leaves - with Matthew Robson

In this episode we spend a sunny afternoon in Viikki Arboretum with Dr. Matthew Robson. Matthew is teaching and studying plant ecophysiology in the Viikki Plant Science Centre. His research group studies how plants respond to changes in the spectral composition of radiation, in particular in the forest understorey.

Our wonderful walk through the sunlit, bird-filled forest takes us from one biotope to another, and our conversation from the molecular to the global scale.

Matthew tells us about the fascinating ways plants respond to the constantly varying light conditions under the forest canopy using their molecular “light antennas”. How do plants pick up the illumination signals from the environment and use them as cues for physiological responses – do they have a clock and a notebook in their leaves? What other functions do various pigments in the leaves of the plants have? And why the leaves at the top of the canopy are thicker than the ones on the lower parts?

Moving to the global scale, we discuss how the cloud formation as part of climate change might impact photosynthesis in the forest canopies. How do plants respond to the fast changes in the environment in the short term and over the generations? Why some plants are chosen by humans and bred to be protected from climate change?

Matthew also tells us about possible ways to improve photosynthesis of crop plants as part of carbon capture efforts – and responds to the solar physicist who mistakenly calls leaves inefficient. What do solar cells and leaves have in common, and why are they still far from being leaf-like? Is it worth trying to reproduce nature?

Adding the human perspective, we discuss among many things how scientists in Matthew's field speak about colours, which turns out to be an ongoing spectral debate. The shadows of the trees growing longer, we end the walk learning how dead leaves are colorfully alive.

Learn more about Matthew's research in his blog.

Listen to the podcast in Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.



This podcast was made possible with support from Aalto University: Aalto Online Learning, the Diversity and Inclusivity Fund of the School of Science, and Materials Platform.

The podcast was created and produced by Janne Halme and Bartaku. Special thanks to Tomi Kauppinen and Henni Kervinen. Graphic design: Mari Kaakkola. Sound engineering: Oskari Martimo.

Related exhibition

The podcast was released at the art exhibition Towardless: Plant-based Electrical and Art Energy on September 10, 2021. The exhibition showed the Blck Vlvt solar panel painting, photo prints of solar cells from Halme's and Bartaku's research archives, and a temporary installation made of solar e-waste. See and learn about artworks in the virtual exhibition:

Blck Vlvt soalr panel painting detail

Towardless: Plant-based Electrical and Art Energy (virtual exhibition)

Solar cells and research material that originate from art_craft, art_science and scientific investigations, and the questioning of light, energy, bodies and matter - including the first hand-painted solar panel.

  • Published:
  • Updated:
URL copied!