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Latent Energy is a science-inspired sculpture depicting a portion of a hydrocarbon molecule transitioning from its liquid to its solid form. This transition is characterized by the release of energy. This is the phase transition that Fred Pirkle used in much of his work. Metaphorically speaking, the sculpture also imagines students developing personal structure through education and growth. The ‘phase transition’ that occurs in students as they reach a more solid state is also accompanied by a release of energy as they mature.

The large spheres in Latent Energy correspond to carbon atoms. The small spheres correspond to hydrogen atoms. The two small molecules on the lawn are both methane, the smallest hydrocarbon molecule, each with one carbon atom. The tall structure shows a portion of a longer hydrocarbon molecule moving from a liquid to a solid form. The solid form is characterized by a linear chain of carbon atoms, each of which has two hydrogen atoms attached to it.




Fred Pirkle Engineering & Technology Center, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX


13' x 9' x 25'


steel, acrylic, LED lighting, electronics

Commissioning Agency: 

Sam Houston State University


Joe O'Connell

Latent Energy 

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