“In Praise of Air,” a poem by Simon Armitage, is the world’s first catalytic poem.
Printed on a giant 65-feet by 32-feet banner, mounted on the wall of a building on the University of Sheffield campus, it overlooks a busy interstate.
It’s set on a piece of fabric, sprayed with a coating of tiny particles of titanium dioxide, a photocatalyst—an agent capable of triggering a chain of chemical reactions while itself, remaining unchanged.
When light—sunlight, streetlight or headlights—falls on it, its electrons are liberated from their nuclear captivity. Free to roam, they accost the oxygen molecules in the air, and infect them with an equal enthusiasm, so that they run around wildly, ultimately, breaking down the pollutants into a harmless solution that can be washed away.
One square-meter of the “page” can, on a day, remove the pollution emitted by one bus or 20 cars.