Science Fusion Tower, Abingdon, Oxford

Science Fusion Tower, Commissioned by Abingdon School in 2015 and unveiled on 19 January 2016.

Designed and made by Matthew Lane Sanderson (MA AWG)

Sponsored by Mr Martin Iredale (OA 1956) and his sons Mr Edward Iredale (OA 1983) and Dr Mathew Iredale (OA 1985)

Hexagon Lattice Canopy

Inspired by the creation of graphene, a crystalline allotrope of carbon, and similarly shaped structures found in nature, such as a turtle’s carapace, beehive honeycombs, igneous rock formations and snowflakes. One large unit cell of the diamond cubic crystal structure is embedded within the sculptural branch network below the canopy, only revealing its hidden hexagons when viewed at certain angles. Tetrahedral Molecular Mesh, based on the germanium and silicon tetrahedral structures of superconductors, which conduct electricity with no resistance and have transformed electronics, transportation, energy and medicine.


Modelled on the tokamak nuclear fusion reactor, cousin of the fission reactor, from which nuclear energy is currently derived. Building ‘mini suns on earth’ could safely meet the world’s energy demands without further degrading its environment, but nuclear fusion is considered one of the most difficult engineering challenges of our time. The sculpture portrays the fusion reactor’s magnetic core, around which radiate spherical layers of electrically charged hot plasma (represented as fabric meshes of woven metal), from which shoot 13 plasma flares.

Concentric Ellipsoids and Central Stem Bifurcation

The concentric ellipsoids, located above and below the tokamak, depict nerve networks, vascular tributaries, magnetic fields of plasma, the mineral skeletons of Radiolaria, mycelium of fungi and all kinds of microscopic organisms. Each ellipsoid crosses the sculpture’s vertical axis at a precise distance from the centre, defined by the Fibonacci sequence of integers (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, etc) – the most abundant logarithm found in nature. The sculpture’s central stem, which runs through the centre of the tokamak, divides many times in both directions into a collection of branches, and these divisions, too, follow the Fibonacci sequence. There are other examples in the sculpture, of the use of Fibonacci integers, such as the number of shooting plasma flares (13).

Fungi Forest

From the mycelium ellipsoid above the mangrove root system sprout 1,256 mushrooms, creating a vast forest of fungi. While there are 5 different sizes of mushroom, 1256 is not a Fibonacci integer. Nevertheless, 1256 is an important number in the history of Abingdon School. 

Mangrove Root System

The entire sculpture is carefully balanced on a root system inspired by the coastal mangrove tree. The stem bifurcates according to the Fibonacci sequence, terminating in 21 root tips, which happens also to be the number of laboratories in the building.

Tree of Life

The ten-metre-high sculpture stands upon an original interpretation of the Tree of Life. This complex graphic was researched and designed for this sculpture by Benjamin Shirley Quirk, in collaboration with Matthew Lane Sanderson, and printed by FloorInk Ltd.   At the centre of the circular design, cellular life begins 4.1 billion years ago. The first evolutionary division occurs: Archaea and Bacteria.  Archaea then merges with an alphaproteobacteria, to form a kingdom that leads to all humanly visible species on Earth and so on, through more kingdoms, phyla, classes, orders, families, genera and species.   Uniquely, this Tree of Life shows a taxon’s importance in terms of its biomass and biodiversity, as measured by the area occupied by that taxon’s lobe. Homo sapien emerges eventually, at the edge of the Tree of Life, as part of the taxon Vertebrata, and in this design context, is not nearly as significant as we might like to think. However, humans have had a disproportionately significant impact on the current biomass of class Mammalia, of which we are a part: 65% cows, 27% humans, 5% other domesticated mammals and 3% wild mammals.