Archive for the ‘Science in the Arts’ Category

Artists and scientists often find themselves looking closely at their subjects to discover that which might have appeared to be invisible previously, it involves slowing down and being aware of what is around us. I always find it a gift to be shown something by someone that I was completely unaware of before, or perhaps in a way that I hadn’t quite looked at it before– it allows me moments of re-discovery in our amazing world.

David Littschwager shares his process of discovery through looking closely in his work on Marine Microfauna — his photographic study of organisms in tidal pools. He is now a contributing nature photographer with National Geographic, and at one time worked in advertising. The transition to nature photography occurred for him when he was first asked to photograph endangered species for the California Nature Conservancy (please find more about David Littschwager in this article about his work process by Joe Cellini of Apple). David Littschwager’s work is both beautiful and ethereal. I love how his work highlights the colors & form of the Flying Fish, the incredible shape of the Squid, the shimmery & floral appendages of the Blue Sea Slug, the delicate light, and gorgeous structure to the Invertebrate Egg Mass.

I also appreciate what Littschwager says about his respectful approach to his subjects:

“I photograph principally natural history subjects, meaning anything from museum specimens to plants and animals out in the wild,” he says. “But a lot of it is trying to show creatures as individuals, for example by stripping away the background and doing formal portraits, even of zooplankton.”

His work is a reminder of the beauty that remains in our world, how precious and fragile and breath-catchingly wonderous. I easily know what I would like for my next birthday present, a print of David Littschwager’s work/


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Research labs are not typically considered places of beauty, but then, beauty is in the eye of the beholder–one person might describe a research project as having an elegant design, another might wax poetic about a bit of beautiful engineering, and anybody who has gotten to look at images of water bears produced by a scanning electron microscope, photos of nebula taken through telescopes, or micro-particles seen under fluorescent microscopy knows that those images can be works of art in their own right.

Princeton University highlights these aesthetically beautiful images captured during scientific research in its annual “Art of Science” competition. The exhibit represents works by students & faculty of Princeton. A faculty member with their Department of Chemical Engineering, Celeste Nelson studies tissue development and submitted this image of baby squid taken under bright-field microscopy during her research. Her image received 1st place in an on-line voting poll. (All photos shown here with permission from Princeton).

Image of squid embryos taken by Celeste Nelson of Princeton

"Baby squid"-Celeste Nelson (faculty) Department of Chemical Engineering --"My tissue morphodynamics laboratory studies the dynamic processes that control tissue development. This image of squid (Loligo pealeii) embryos was taken using bright field microscopy."

Here are a few of the additional submissions, with the science behind the art in the researcher’s own words:

Image of Organic Semi-conducting film using Optical Microscope & Cross Polarizes--beautiful

"Semiconducting Feathers"-- R. R. Lunt '09 Department of Chemical Engineering ---"Organic electronics is an emerging field that holds promise for high-quality displays, low-power white lighting, and low-cost photovoltaic applications. This image of an organic semiconducting film was taken using an optical microscope with cross-polarizers and a Nomarski filter. The film is composed of many micron-sized crystallites with a common crystalline stacking direction that was formed through a fast melting/cooling process which led to the formation of feather-like features. The variations in color stem from the anisotropic indices of refraction in combination with the rotation of the crystallites with respect to the polarizer configuration. This film was subsequently incorporated into a thin-film photovoltaic solar cell."

Laser Printing Image of Stem Cells--beautiful and moody, like an underwater photo of a jellyfish

"Laser Forward Transfer"-- Matt Brown (graduate student) Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering ---"Laser forward transfer is a direct-write technique used to print a variety of complex materials, from organic electric precursors to biological materials. In the laser forward process, a transparent substrate is coated with the ink material and a pulsed laser is focused into the ink to initiate the ejection of a small amount of material onto a receiving substrate. Motion of the ink and receiving substrates between successive laser shots allows printing of complex patterns. Laser printing of stem cells is currently being investigated for tissue engineering applications. This image shows a laser transfer from a model system of 20 micron polystyrene beads in glycerol used to simulate the transfer of human stem cells. The ejected plume is less than 500 microns wide yet moves at tens of meters per second. To freeze the motion, the image is strobed with a 25 nanosecond pulsed plasma lamp, 10 microseconds after the laser hits the ink."

Computer Simulation

"Social Evolution in Cell Groups"-- Carey Nadell, Joao Xavier, and Kevin Foster Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology---" Expanding clusters of cells are commonplace in the natural world, and depending on the context, they may be beneficial or harmful to humans. Understanding the impact of cell groups on their environment requires that we understand evolution within such cell populations. Some cell behaviors -- especially those that give the cell group its ability to exploit environmental resources -- are cooperative in nature, and whether or not such behaviors evolve depends on how the group is structured. When genetic relatives are clustered together, cooperative cell behaviors like extracellular enzyme secretion can evolve more easily. Secreted enzymes, in turn, may allow a pathogenic bacterial colony to become more virulent, or a nascent cancerous tumor to become malignant. Using a computer simulation framework that implements independent cells in explicit space, we have shown that the internal structure of cell groups can depend very heavily on the environment. In the three images shown here, the red and blue cell types do not differ in any way other than their color, which is used to determine whether a cell group remains well-mixed, or whether related cells tend to cluster together. From left to right, environmental nutrient concentration was decreased from ubiquitous, to moderate, to sparse. As nutrient concentration decreases, the tendency for different genetic lineages to spontaneously segregate increases, which favors the evolution of cooperation. This result may inform our understanding of pathogenic cell groups, in which cooperation between cells is harmful for their host."

Fluid Vortex emerging in a radial rainbow

"Vortex Waltz"-- J. Luc Peterson (graduate student) and Greg Hammett (faculty) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory ---"Two-dimensional fluid vortexes attract, swirling and merging with their partners in a turbulent ballet. This natural behavior influences phenomena ranging from weather patterns in the atmosphere to the performance of nuclear fusion devices. Advanced numerical algorithms and high-performance supercomputers allow for turbulence simulations of unprecedented detail. This snapshot catches the vortexes in the act. Originally entirely separated, the two vortex centers (dark red) have sent out spiral bands and shock waves throughout the background fluid as they've circled each other and combined. If left alone long enough, the two will complete their dance as a single, larger vortex."

appears like liquid chrome looking at itself in a fun-house mirror

"surface quasi-geostrophic turbulence"--- Isaac Held (lecturer with rank of professor) Atmospheric and Oceanice Sciences Program/Geosciences ----"A snapshot of a numerical simulation of a distinctive kind of turbulence thought to be relevant to rapidly rotating fluids such as the Earth's atmosphere and oceans. These simulations, and the equations on which they are based, are used to study the interaction between small- and large-scale structures. In particular, they help us understand the spectra of atmospheric and oceanic turbulent flows -- that is, the relative magnitude of the excitation of different scales of motion. This is a simulation of a very idealized homogeneous system in which every point in this square domain is physically indistinguishable from every other point. The domain has no walls or boundaries, but is, rather, re-entrant in both dimensions -- as one leaves one side of the domain one enters on the other side. This system is proving to be of interest not only to atmospheric and oceanic scientists, but also to mathematicians, because of the fractal character of its solutions and due to the possibility that it can help us understand how singularities form in fluid flows."

Light Deflection simulated to show light deflection of many intervening stars in space

"Light Deflection 2b"-- Joachim Wambsganss (faculty) Department of Astrophysical Sciences-- "According to Einstein's Theory of Gravity, a ray of light is attracted by a clump of matter. As a consequence of "gravitational lensing", the light ray changes its direction from a straight line by a minute amount when it passes close to a cosmic object. Stars and planets in our Milky Way or in other galaxies can act as "microlenses": They focus the light of a background source in a very characteristic way. The main effect is a time-variable magnification of the background source due to relative motion.In our research, we simulate the effects of light deflection by tracing light rays backward through a field of lensing objects and calculating their deflection. The colors in the resulting two-dimensional maps in the "source plane" reflect the density of light rays, they indicate the magnification of the background source as a function of its position. The sharp "caustic lines" are locations of very high magnification. When a background star moves across such a pattern, we can measure its variable brightness with our telescopes and deduce properties of dark matter or discover extrasolar planets. Figure 2b: This microlensing pattern indicates the magnification of a distant "quasar" as a function of its position; it is produced by the light deflection of many stars in an intervening galaxy. (Zoom of "Light Deflection 1")"

Image of Mona Lisa used as a bitmap image to show image retention after computer has been shut down

"The Persistence of Memory"-- J. Alex Halderman, Seth D. Schoen, Nadia Heninger, William Clarkson, William Paul, Joseph A. Calandrino, Ariel J. Feldman, Jacob Appelbaum, and Edward W. Felten Center for Information Technology Policy---"Contrary to what most people think, computer memory is not instantly erased when power is cut. Rather, it fades gradually over a period of seconds to minutes as charge leaks out of the DRAM cells. We loaded a bitmap image into memory on a test computer, then cut power for varying intervals. After 5 seconds (left), the image is nearly indistinguishable from the original; it gradually becomes more degraded, as shown after the computer has been off for 30 seconds, 60 seconds, and 5 minutes. Even after this longest trial, traces of the original remain. The decay shows prominent patterns. Some areas of the memory chip are wired to interpret lack of charge as a 0 bit, others as a 1 bit -- this results in the alternating horizontal bars. The fainter vertical bands are caused by physical variations in the chip, which cause charge to leak out slightly faster or slower in different areas. Our research shows that this little-known phenomenon, called memory remanence, has dangerous security implications. For example, it could be used to break the disk encryption on a stolen laptop and reveal sensitive data."

I was excited to find that the University of Texas at Austin also has their own student Art of Science group, check out their blog spot for updates on their activities.

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Beili Liu - Miasma (posted with permission by the artist)

Beili Liu - Miasma (posted with permission by the artist)

Beili Liu takes unwoven wool, silk organza, thread and reworks them into structures that easily look like they could have been found in nature. The end results are sculptural and breath-taking.

Art of Beili Liu Bound2

One of her pieces, Bound #2, is composed of two standing red-oak columns that look as if they might have been cut in half. Red threads, attached by needles to the wooden columns, connect the two like a gossamer. The red threads create a tension between the two pieces of heavy wood that bring life back into the de-rooted, lumbered pieces. Here is what dberman gallery says about it:

Bound #2… is based on the Chinese legend of the red thread of destiny, which is the idea that when each person is born, they are connected by an invisible red thread to their destined soulmate.

Beili Liu - Lapse

Beili Liu - Lapse

Another piece, called Lapse, recalls to mind a beautiful birch tree, and in fact, birch wooden panels are used as the base on which charred vellum is adhered. It is amazing to me that I can look at these flattened & elongated panels and really feel as if I am walking through a birch forest, particularly the one long piece. It makes me think of the writing trick where you can leave out certain letters and people will still read the sentence correctly, our mind skips ahead and makes the connections. In this case, I feel the same way I would as if I was experiencing a tree in nature–Beili Liu makes that connection for me in her sculptures.

Beili Liu’s Bound is showing at dberman gallery through October 24th, with a gallery talk this Saturday, October 3rd at 1pm.

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