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The Art of Science 2011

19 Nov

Every year, Princeton University in the U.S. organises an exhibition of science-themed art, where all of the artwork comes from research carried out by the university’s scientists. This year’s gallery was revealed last week…here are some of my favourites:

The view from here, by Colin Twomey and the Couzin Lab

I had no idea what this was before I read the description. Those colourful rods are fish swimming in a tank – 150 of them in total – and the white rays show the approximate field of view for each fish. This is a single frame from a video, filmed by biologists studying the behaviour of fish shoals.

Nitrogen fixation, by Sarah Batterman

This otherworldly landscape was photographed in Iceland. Nootka lupins like these were first planted more than 50 years ago to help rebuild Iceland’s highly eroded soils. However, this practice has become controversial because the plants often spread too quickly, affecting the native flora and reducing Iceland’s biodiversity (find out more here).

Mathematical Mountains, by Steve Brunton

I love this image – it makes me think of picture book illustrations of snow-capped mountains. In reality, it’s an excerpt from a bifurcation diagram of population dynamics, showing how order can emerge out of chaos. I’ve not got my head around the science behind this one yet, but it’s certainly nice to look at.

To see the full gallery, including the overall winners, click here!

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‘Out of this World’ at the British Library

21 May

A science fiction exhibition opened yesterday at London’s British Library: ‘Out of this World: Science Fiction, but not as you know it’. I’ve not been yet, but some of the items on display sound rather intriguing, such as the Codex Seraphinianus book – a visual encyclopedia for a fictional world, written in an (as yet) undeciphered language. The illustrations are legendary. With copies of the book very hard to come by, I was chuffed to find the entire thing online – praise be to internet citizens for their unfailing industriousness!

A drawing from Luigi Serafini's 'Codex Seraphinianus' book (1976-1978)

Here are a couple other favourites from the exhibition website

The Martians from H G Wells’ 'The War of the Worlds', illustrated by Henrique Alvim Corrêa for the Belgian edition (1906)

A Tony Roberts illustration for 'Spellsinger', a series of fantasy novels written by Alan Dean Foster

‘Out of this World’ runs until September 25th 2011, and entry is free.

Celestial Music

13 Mar

It’s easy to forget that our bodies are constantly being breached by extraterrestrial particles. Luckily for us, these particles are tiny and have the same kind of effect as raspberries being thrown at Jupiter. Our invisible invaders result from high-energy cosmic rays, created by stars (including our Sun) and other lesser-understood sources outside the Solar System. On meeting the Earth’s atmosphere, these cosmic rays collide with atmospheric molecules to generate showers of particles (‘secondary cosmic rays’) that can travel to the Earth’s surface. If we happen to be standing in their way, the particles zip through us before continuing on their immense journey across the universe.

Cosmic Ray's in Futurama (Wikipedia fact of the day: in the non-fictional New York City, there are over 40 independent Ray's Pizzas. One pizzeria owner was so fed up with this omnipresence that he established 'Not Ray's Pizzeria'.)

Over the past few years, Charlie Hooker, a professor of sculpture at the University of Brighton, has been using cosmic rays as an unlikely source of inspiration for his installations. The video below describes his ‘Timeline’ exhibit, an audio-visual installation featuring two drums being ‘played’ when hit by cosmic rays. Inside each drum, a Geiger counter triggers a sound sample every time a radioactive particle is detected.

More recently, Charlie Hooker has adapted this idea to other instruments. His ‘Audio Accompaniment’ installation, part of an upcoming John Cage exhibition at the De La Warr Pavilion (see the flyer below), uses a MIDI-controlled piano. The keys of the piano move in a ghostly way to produce sound each time a cosmic ray is detected, creating unpredictable flurries of random notes and harmonies.

John Cage: 'Every Day is a Good Day' exhibition, at the De La Warr Pavilion (April 16th - June 5th)

In theory, any electronic instrument could be triggered using a similar method. The possibilities are endless…maybe it won’t be long before we see an entire orchestra conducted by cosmic rays.

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