Parts Per Million

Looking inward to reach outward

Parts Per Million, by Benjamin Volta. Photo by Steve Weinik.

South Philadelphia High School welcomes students from over 27 countries, and is in many ways a microcosm of the global community. Through this Arts Integration project, the school’s colorful new façade poses a question to every individual walking by: How can one small action help fix the broken parts of our global ecosystem?

Artist Ben Volta worked directly with students and the local community, inspired by the idea of looking inward in order to reach outward. The resulting mural represents a vast and colorful universe of languages and culture, science, geography, and math. The title Parts Per Million refers to the way that carbon dioxide is measured in the atmosphere, using it as a metaphor for change through collective action.

In algebra classrooms, students plotted coordinates and connected points to create hundreds of interlocking geometric forms found throughout the mural: spirals, tessellations, and fractals, among others. Students explored the mathematics of energy and life—on a microscopic level in microorganisms and on a macroscopic level in shells, hurricanes, and galaxies. Together, they learned about our collective carbon footprint and the statistics of temperature fluctuation, showing how human actions, multiplied by millions, have a huge impact on our world.


Phil Straus & Margaret Harris
Lindy Communities

Parts Per Million is part of the STEAM mural initiative, supported by the following funders: CSL Behring, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, PHL Life Sciences, and Rockland Immunochemicals, Inc.


South Philadelphia High School