On the Northwest corner of Corpus Christi college in Cambridge, England there is a strange looking contraption. A gold-plated and stainless steel disk, about 1.5 metres (4.9ft) in diameter, sits in front of the Taylor library and glares across at the Porter’s lodge of Kings College. It is, in fact, a clock; although it has neither hands or numbers. It displays the time by opening tiny slits in the clock face which are backlit with blue LEDs; these slits are arranged in three concentric circles denoting hours, minutes, and seconds.
Yet, this is not what is most striking about the clock. Rather the dominating feature is a macabre metal sculpture of an insect, something akin to a locust or perhaps a grasshopper, which sits on top of the clock. Although somewhat symbolic, this insect is not merely cosmetic, for it is the clock’s escapement (the mechanical device which transfers energy to the timekeeping element).
It was officially unveiled by Stephen Hawking in 2008 and was conceived and funded by the inventor John Taylor. Taylor called the insect the Chronophage, which apparently means ‘time eater’. The insect both consumes time and moves it forward. When the clock strikes the hour it rattles a chain inside a hidden, wooden coffin and it is only accurate once every five minutes. Below the clock there is an inscription from the Vulgate of 1 John 2.17: “the world passeth away, and the lust thereof”. [Read more…]