Cambridge 800

Decorating a History of Achievement


“The ideas, concepts and inventions that have flowed from Cambridge have changed the world.”


In 2009, a plethora of events were held, in Cambridge and around the world that celebrated the University and its history, as well as showcasing the University’s current transformative research. Cambridge commissioned world-renowned projection artist Ross Ashton to crown the opening ceremonies for the yearlong celebration with a projection light show (a first for Cambridge) presented on the front of the historic Senate House (the ceremonial center for the University since 1730), and the Old Schools building.


The projection artwork included imagery that reflected upon the world-changing concepts developed within the hallowed halls over 8oo years of higher education, including 89 Nobel Prize winners, poets, artists, and philosophers, the development of physics, and the discovery of the structure of DNA.

“I wanted to give the viewer a glimpse of the depth and breadth of this incredible body of work and to show that this same innovative genius will continue to shape our world in the future.”

Ashton’s light show was accompanied by a new bell peal specially created for the anniversary by Cambridge alumnus Philip Earis. Four local churches, including the University church of Great St Mary’s, rang Philip Earis’ composition simultaneously on 17 January 2009. The spectacular opening event ran for three nights, attracting over 10,000 visitors to central Cambridge.


The opening ceremonies were such a success, that Ashton was invited back (by popular demand) to Cambridge for the finale ceremonies 12 months later. This time, the Cambridge 800 Committee decided to expand the scale and scope of the projections by incorporating the Kings College Chapel and Gibbs buildings in addition to the Senate House and Old Schools building. The resulting masterpieces were enjoyed by 20,000 visitors over 3 evenings.


The project was broken down into three distinct themes. ‘Blurring the Boundaries’ light exhibition was projected onto the Senate House and Old Schools buildings, and examined the interaction between art and science. The exhibit at King’s College Chapel, entitled ‘Nano’, was based on nanoscience research, and ‘Proteins to Planets’ at the Gibbs Building showcased the brilliant aesthetics of physical science. The show included artistic renditions of brain scans and mouse skin, plant cell architecture, and images of musical sound waves.


The projection content was woven together from a combination of University supplied material provided to Ashton and his team. They then transformed the images into multi-layered video and PIGI film artwork. The images gracing the fascia of the residential Gibbs building stretched 70m, while those on the majestic Kings College Chapel rose to 40m, both surfaces fed by 5 PIGI 6Kw projectors with double rotating scrollers loaded with approximately 5 meters each of film, and positioned 110m away.

“I was extremely privileged to return to Cambridge and work on this Finale show, for which my brief was to highlight some of the ongoing ground-breaking ideas, concepts and research being undertaken at Cambridge that will make a huge impact on the future of science, medicine, technology, society and thinking.”