Lise Meitner (1878 - 1968)

Austrian physicist Lise Meitner worked in pre-second world war Germany with chemist Otto Hahn on radioactivity and nuclear physics.  To escape the Nazis, she fled to Sweden in 1938 from where, through contacts in England, her work came to the attention of Albert Einstein in the USA, who then advised President Franklin D Roosevelt of its significance.  The Manhattan Project to create the atomic bomb followed. 


Despite the fact that she gave the first theoretical analysis of chain reaction nuclear fission, it was Otto Hahn who was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize for the experimental dimension of their collaborative research, while Meitner’s contribution was ignored.  In a late act of recognition, twenty four years after her death, a newly discovered transuranic element was named after her.  The painting shows a simplified version of the electronic structure of Meitnerium.

Prime Time, Ink over Oil on Canvas, 60 x 60 cms, £240

​Available to buy online within UK and Ireland (£20 postage)

Thales' Ratios, Ink over Oil on Canvas, 50 x 50 cms, £320

​​Available to buy online within UK and Ireland (£20 postage)

The Day it all Began, Ink over Oil on Canvas, 40 x 40 cms, £240

​Available to buy online within UK and Ireland (£20 postage)

Mapping B12, Ink over Oil on Canvas, 40 x 40 cms, £240

​Available to buy online within UK and Ireland (£20 postage)

Giuseppe Peano (1858 - 1932)

Author and cartographer Tim Robinson first encountered Peano’s space filling curves as a mathematics student under the tutelage of Cambridge Professor Abram Samoilovitch Besicovitch (1891–1970). 

In Robinson’s ‘A Connemara Fractal’, he muses on the fractal nature of the Connemara coast and on the thought that his old friend the Peano curve, that ‘topological monster’, is the perfect emblem for his ‘endless trudging’ along a coast of incredible complexity. 

When the same thinking is applied to islands, that appear at first sight to be mappable because of their natural sea boundaries, the conclusion must be that following even the finest of Peano curves will do nothing more than demonstrate ‘the delusion of comprehensive reality’.  

Reinhold Bertlmann (1945 – 2019)

In a famous paper, Belfast-born physicist, J.S. Bell used the fact that Austrian born Professor Bertlmann often wore different coloured socks as an analogy for the behaviour of pairs of sub-atomic particles originating from a common source. 

In so doing he addressed one of the deep questions facing physicists trying to understand the full implications of quantum theory, specifically the validity or otherwise of deterministic theories involving ‘hidden variables’ as proposed by Einstein and others.

J.S.  Bell: ‘Bertlmann's socks and the nature of reality’, J. Phys.Colloq. 42 (C2), March 1981.

Last Contact, Ink over Oil on Canvas, 60 x 60 cms, £420

​Available to buy online within UK and Ireland (£20 postage)

Eratosthenes (276 – 194 BC)


Prime time features the Sieve of Eratosthenes (his method for identifying and displaying prime numbers) and his remarkably accurate measurement of the size of the Earth. 


For the latter, he brought together firstly, his observation that sunlight at mid-day on the summer solstice reached the bottom of a deep vertical well situated in Upper Egypt; secondly, his ‘simultaneous’ measurement of the angle of the shadow of a vertical tower in Alexandria, where he was the librarian; and thirdly his measurement of the distance between the two observation sites. His genius lay in his realisation that the angle of the shadow was equal to the angle at the centre of the earth subtended by the arc between the two sites. That allowed him to set up the equation:

Circumference of the earth / Distance of tower to well = 360 degrees /  Angle of shadow of tower

Murray Gell-Mann (1929 – 2019)


Trying to understand quarks is a bit like trying to understand every single word in Finnigan’s Wake - quite a challenge!

Quarks come in different ‘flavours’, different ‘colours’, different ‘direction’, different electric charges and different masses. 

They come in sets, inside atomic particles called hadrons.  The diptych shows the internal quark structure of two familiar hadrons, the proton and the neutron.  The name ‘quark’ was coined by American physicist Murray Gell-Mann, who remembered the reference to three quarks in Finnegans Wake. 

What do quarks look like?  The best answer is probably in the form of mathematical equations. 

But why not in the form of James Joyce’s spectacles; sets of spectacles that are red, green or blue; have a charge of plus 2/3 or minus 1/3 of the charge on the electron and are upside down or right side up?

Seven Bridges, Ink over Oil on Canvas, 40 x 40 cms, SOLD

Fishing for a Cure, Ink over Oil on Canvas, 60 x 60 cms, £420

​Available to buy online within UK and Ireland (£20 postage)

Watch the video below in full screen to see the artworks in detail (2 Minutes)

On the Shoulders of Giants
An Exhibition by Professor Harry McMahon

As part of Northern Ireland Science Festival 2021

​Wed 3rd February to Sat 27th February 2021

Online Only

On the Shoulders of Giants is a tribute to the pioneers of science such as Leonhard Euler, Dorothy Hodgkin, J.S. Bell and William Campbell.  Each painting celebrates a significant example of humankind’s attempts to bring conceptual order to what might otherwise be seen as an incomprehensible, chaotic world.  The show should be of interest both to art lovers and to those interested in the history of science.


Professor Harry McMahon’s first degree was in physics; his most recent, after he retired, was in Fine and Applied Art.  In “On the Shoulders of Giants”, escaping from his long-term practice in landscape painting, he overlays diagrammatic references to science and mathematics on complex, near-chaotic, painterly backgrounds.  Based on the work of Greek philosophers like Thales and Eratosthenes, mathematicians like Leonhard Euler and William Rowan Hamilton, and 20th and 21st century scientists such as Dorothy Hodgkin, Belfast-born J S Bell and Ramelton-born William Campbell, this is a must-see exhibition for anyone interested in science and art.

All artworks are available to buy online or by card over the phone


You can also buy art from this exhibition through the Own Art scheme which gives you an interest-free loan over 10 months (and you still get to take the art home immediately the exhibition ends).


Own Art can be arranged over the phone and the work delivered to your home. We can also email you the link and you can complete the application, in a few minutes, in the comfort of your own home.

William C Campbell (1930 - ) & Satoshi Omura (1935 - )

In 2015 William C Campbell, who was born in Ramelton in Co. Donegal, shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Satoshi Omura ‘for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites’.

River blindness, endemic in sub-Saharan Africa, is caused by a tiny worm that can infect the cornea and cause blindness.  In 1978 Satoshi Omura succeeded in culturing a strain of bacteria from which William Campbell purified a substance, avermectin.  This in turn, in a chemically modified form called ivermectin, proved effective against river blindness.

 Sustainable, community-led mass drug administration of ivermectin is currently the World Health Organisation’s primary control strategy for the disease.

Mike Parker Pearson (1957 - )


Mike Parker Pearson has suggested that amongst prehistoric peoples such as those who constructed Stonehenge, timber was associated with the living and stone with the ancestral dead.  He has argued that Stonehenge was the terminus of a long, funerary procession route for ritualised treating of the dead.  The ceremonial route began in the east at Woodhenge and moved down the Avon and then along an ancient avenue to Stonehenge. 


The journey from wood to stone via water was a symbolic journey from life to death.  He suggests that there is no satisfactory evidence to conclude that Stonehenge's astronomical alignments were anything more than symbolic.


Key: Sarsens (contour lines), bluestones (blue) and sandstones (yellow)

Dorothy Hodgkin  (1910 - 1994)

Dorothy Hodgkin used X-ray crystallography, to determine the three-dimensional structures of biomolecules.  Among her most influential discoveries are the Dorothy Hodgkin used X-ray crystallography, to determine the three-dimensional structures of biomolecules, the confirmation of the structure of penicillin, that had been postulated by other scientists, and in 1956, the molecular structure and electron density map of vitamin B12, for which she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. 


Vitamin B12, is a water-soluble vitamin that has a key role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system, and the formation of red blood cells.  Methods of producing the vitamin in large quantities from bacteria cultures were developed in the 1950s, and these led to the modern form of treatment for diseases such as megaloblastic anaemia.

The Redress of Nomination, Ink over Oil on Canvas, 60 x 60 cms, SOLD

A quick look round the exhibition (30 Seconds)

Robert Weryk (1981 - )


Robert J. Weryk is a Canadian physicist and astronomer.  He currently works at the University of Hawaii where he discovered the first known interstellar object, using the PanSTARRS telescope at Haleakala Observatory.  It was named Oumuamua, ‘a messenger from afar arriving first’.

When its blurred movement against images of the fixed stars was first photographed on 17th October, 2017, Oumuamua was about 33 million kilometres from Earth (about 85 times as far away as the Moon), and already heading away from the Sun. 


It caused great excitement because of its trajectory, very high velocity and elongated shape, leading in some quarters to speculation that it was of alien origin.  

In Real Time, Ink over Oil on Canvas, 30 x 30 cms, £140


Cycle Paths, Ink over Oil on Canvas, 100 x 100 cms, £800

​Available to buy online within UK and Ireland (£20 postage)

Staff at Queen’s University Belfast (1845 - )


Oumuamua is the first known interstellar object detected passing through the Solar System.  Formally designated 1l/2017 U1, it caused a great deal of interest because of its curiously elongated shape. It was studied closely by astrophysicists around the world, including Professor Alan Fitzsimmons and others based at Queens University, Belfast.  One view of its origin suggests that it might have come from the Oort cloud at the outer edge of the solar system.  However, its very high velocity and the results of studies of its surface carried out at QUB suggest it took off from an unknown star system in the long distant past and has been wandering through the Milky Way, unattached to any star system, for hundreds of millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system.


When last seen it was headed back into interstellar space in the direction of the constellation Pegasus (the Winged Horse).

Professor Bertlmann's Socks, Ink over Oil on Canvas, 40 x 40 cms, £240

​Available to buy online within UK and Ireland (£20 postage)

John Stewart Bell (1928 – 1990)

Belfast born J.S.  Bell, a professor of physics at CERN and an honorary graduate of Queen’s University, Belfast, addressed theoretically one of the most controversial issues that had puzzled physicists for decades in the twentieth century, namely the validity or otherwise of Einstein’s theory that so-called ‘hidden variables’ were needed to explain the properties of pairs of particles issued from a central source. 

Bell’s proposed test of ‘entanglement’ between pairs of widely separated particles, carried out later by several experimentalists, showed that Einstein was mistaken and that Bell’s interpretation of quantum theory was correct.  Bell is regarded as one of the 20th Century's greatest physicists and was widely believed to have been in line for a Nobel Prize in Physics when he died from a stroke in 1990.

Andrea Ghez (1965 - )

Andrea Ghez is the fourth woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.  She shared the 2020 prize with Reinhard Genzel, who was making similar observations of stars close to the centre of our galaxy, and Richard Penrose, a theoretician who was studying black holes.  Her essential contribution was to refine the operation of the WM Keck telescope in Hawaii to reach the very high spatial resolution necessary for observations of the changing positions of stars in real time.

By monitoring the motion of massive stars around an unusual object called Sagittarius A*, as if they were planets orbiting a star, she and Reinhard Genzel independently demonstrated the existence of a black hole with a mass equivalent to four million suns at the centre of the Milky Way.  Since measurements began in 1995 they have been able to plot the paths of several stars.  Successive observation points on the orbits show how the stars accelerate as they get closer to the black hole.  Future measurements of the orbits will allow a further test of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity.

Terminus, Ink over Oil on Canvas, 50 x 50 cms, £320


Rosalind Franklin (1920 – 1958)

The symmetries of X-ray diffraction patterns of the type shown provided the data that crystallographers Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins used to explore molecular structure.  In the 1950s, both were working in Kings College, London, but separately, on the structure of DNA.  At the same time, theoreticians Jim Watson and Francis Crick, at Cambridge, were trying to build a molecular model of DNA. 


A plate produced by the Wilkins group suggested a double helix structure, but to model the details of the structure, the Cambridge pair needed complex measurements of the angles formed by different chemical bonds.  They found these in the rich data produced by Rosalind Franklin.  But sadly, they used these data without Franklin’s knowledge or permission.  One wonders whether the then, and current, asymmetry of gender role expectations in science had anything to do with their approach to collaboration.

A/Symmetries, Ink over Oil on Canvas, 40 x 40 cms, £240

​Available to buy online within UK and Ireland (£20 postage)

Entanglement (Triptych), Ink over Oil on Canvas, 20 x 80 cms, £260

​Available to buy online within UK and Ireland (£20 postage)

Thales of Miletus (624 - 546 BC)

The Greek philosopher, Thales of Miletus, came up with this theorem in the sixth century BC.  It’s about the ratios of the lengths between crossing points on two diverging lines crossed by a pair of parallel lines. If the equation is not true, the lines are not parallel.

AB / AC = AD / AE

The Delusion of Comprehensive Reality, Ink over Oil on Canvas, 40 x 40 cms, £240

​Available to buy online within UK and Ireland (£20 postage)

Katsuko Saruhashi (1920 –2007)

In March 1954 a Japanese fishing boat, the Daigo Fukuryū Mar (M.S. Five Red Dragons), encountered the fallout from the U.S. Castle Bravo nuclear test at Bikini Atoll, near the Marshall Islands.  When the test was held, the Daigo Fukuryū Maru was catching fish outside the danger zone that the United States government had declared in advance.  However, the test was more than twice as powerful as it was predicted to be, and changes in weather patterns blew nuclear fallout, in the form of a fine ash, outside the danger zone.  The fishermen were caught in the fallout and suffered severe radiation sickness.

Japanese nuclear physicist Katsuko Saruhashi took up the case of the fishermen and proved through analysis of the distribution of radioactivity in ocean samples over time that the effects of the nuclear tests were much more widespread and long lasting 

First Contact, Ink over Oil on Canvas, 30 x 30 cms, £140

​Available to buy online within UK and Ireland (£20 postage)

Fall Out, Ink over Oil on Canvas, 60 x 60 cms, £420

​Available to buy online within UK and Ireland (£20 postage)

William Rowan Hamilton (1805 – 1865)


In 1859, the Irish Astronomer Royal, Sir William Rowan Hamilton, put a new puzzle on the market, called the ‘Icosian game’.  The game was a commercial failure, but it illustrated one of the iconic problems in computer science today.  Its object is to trace a route around the edges of a dodecahedron while visiting each vertex once and only once.  A successful tour round all vertices is called a Hamiltonian cycle or path.  It sounds deceptively easy, but in fact completing a Hamiltonian cycle is very hard.  One player would lay out the first five steps on a flattened version and challenge his or her opponent to complete the path.  There is no way of avoiding an exhaustive search, given that, at every successive vertex encountered, the path can be extended along either of two possible edges.  The number of possible paths builds up exponentially.  On the other hand, checking a Hamiltonian cycle is easy.  Simply follow the path, and check that you visit each vertex only once.

Presenting four paths in the painting acknowledges Hamilton’s seminal work on quaternions, one of the key steps towards 20th C. quantum mechanics.

A leisurely look at the paintings with background texts by Prof Harry McMahon (7 Minutes)

Harry McMahon (1937 - )


I want to thank all those who have helped me get through this last calendar year.  February 2020 seems a long time ago.  The days have dragged and the months have flown, as if time itself had been warped by the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic.  Our bubble family, Susie, Jon, Rory and Barney, together with other relatives, close friends and good neighbours, have helped pull my wife Anne and me through tough times. 


But on this occasion I want especially to thank Colin, Rosy, Noelle, Ciara, Sinead, Ken and Ann for their encouragement to keep on painting, for the goals they have placed before me and for the opportunities they have provided to enjoy virtually the work of other artists throughout Ireland and abroad.

Six Quarks for Muster Mark (Diptych), Ink over Oil on Canvas, 30 x 60 cms, £260

​Available to buy online within UK and Ireland (£20 postage)

Leonhard Euler (1707 - 1783)

In the 1600s, in a town called Konigsberg (now Kaliningrad), locals and visitors faced an odd challenge – to visit all four sections of the town without crossing any of the seven bridges across the river Pregel more than once.  Nobody could do it, but people kept trying until Euler came along in the 1700s and developed an algebraic methodology to show that it was impossible.  In the process he laid the foundations for modern network theory.  As William Tutte had it:

Some citizens of Königsberg were walking on the strand,

Beside the river Pregel with its seven bridges spanned.

'O Euler, come and walk with us,’ those burghers did beseech.

‘We'll roam the seven bridges o'er, and pass but once by each.’

‘It can't be done,’ thus Euler cried. ‘Here comes the Q.E.D.

Your islands are but vertices and four have odd degree.’