Felice Frankel on Studio 360

Studio 360 is featuring audio and a slide show narrated by Felice Frankel, science-photographer and co-author of No Small Matter.

(produced by Studio 360's Sarah Lilley)

You may remember Felice and I co-facilitated a session at ScienceOnline2010 last year, discussing science-imagery and metaphor.  We had a great time, and her insights into the physics of the nano-scale are accessible and aesthetically wondrous.  Lots of links here.

Check it out and head over to Studio 360 to comment, or better still pick up No Small Matter by Felice Frankel and George Whitesides-it's a treasure.

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Original artwork on
The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
Creative Commons Licence.
The work above is © Felice Frankel, and the slideshow was produced by Sarah Lilley.

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ScienceOnline2010: Push it til it breaks

(Today, a guest post by my ScienceOnline2010 session co-leader, Felice Frankel!)The process of coming up with a visual metaphor to explain to someone a particular scientific concept can be quite effective, not only for your readers, but for you –– the process can help to clarify the concept in your own mind. In addition, a discussion about the limitations of that metaphor can be just as clarifying (and fun!). We are incorporating this idea in our NSF-funded Picturing to Learn program.

For years, I have wanted to create an online library of metaphors to communicate complicated science concepts and to engage whoever was interested in why and where those metaphors fall apart. We should do it. Who wants to be part of it?

Here a just a few examples from George Whitesides' and my new book No Small Matter, Science on the Nanoscale.
Quantum Apple

...an attempt to depict the counter intuitiveness of quantum mechanics. Not necessarily a deep portrayal to be sure. I just wanted the reader to get a handle about the idea that QM is NOT like the world as we "see" it.

Writing with Light

How some devices are made using "photolithography".

Graduation Chairs

...so much of what we see is dependent upon where our heads are at, at the time we see it. Coincidentally, while I was working with researchers at MIT imaging samples showing "templated self-assembly" of block co-polymers (another example with which you are more familiar would be DNA replication), the facilities folks were setting up chairs for parents which were meant as "guides" or "templates", where to sit during graduation. Again, nothing that profound but perhaps interesting enough to get some feedback. I decided to post the image and ask people to write to me and suggest what they see in the metaphor. The responses were all over the place:
"... an illustration of orbitals and similar constraints on electrons in an atom."

"The image reminds me of columns (or rows :D) of ICs"

"...circuit on the motherboard of a computer."

"...gravestone markers in a cemetery."

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We'll see you at ScienceOnline2010!
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Today's images Copyright by Felice Frankel.

Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.

Flying Trilobite Gallery *** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***

Science Online 2010: Art & Science intro

At the upcoming ScienceOnline2010 in January, I will be on hand again to lead a session discussing art & science, this time working alongside Felice Frankel. I thought I would do as last year, and put up some of the things I'm thinking about for this year's session in advance, so whether or not you will be attending, you can take part in this discussion. I don't presume to speak for Felice here, although after a wonderful phone call a few weeks ago, I think it's safe to say we'll be leading the discussion and not heatedly debating.

To follow this series of posts, click the "scio10art" label below.
(I will also be doing a workshop about digital painting with a tablet - for more on that, look for posts labelled with "scio10tablet".)

Let's get started.

From the wiki, "
How has our vocabulary of metaphors changed in the wake of scientific inquiry and visualization? This year, let’s take a trip through metaphors in science-based art and discuss how visual representations can enhance understanding, inspire wonder in science and the tension along the Accuracy-Artistic Divide."

Last year we discussed art, science, the two cultures, and I identified what I feel are various types of science-art. I also fretted about art being parasitic on scientific discovery, and could only identify a few instances where art propelled research.

This year, I'd like to focus on artistic metaphors in science imagery.

From The Free Dictionary, metaphors are: "
A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison...One thing conceived as representing another; a symbol...."

Visual metaphors are just that, symbols of one thing representing another, making a comparison, usually of their similarities. They have a rich history in art. The following example isn't necessarily related to science-images, but I feel it will be instructive about typical metaphor in fine art painting. This is one of my favourite paintings, alternatively known as Art or The Sphinx or The Caresses, by Fernand Khnopff, a Belgian Symbolist who painted this in 1896. To use this as one representative example, we see here a variety of metaphors. The artist is cheek to cheek with his muse, a rather androgynous, perhaps feminine version of himself (Khnopff favoured strong jawlines on the women he painted). They are alone in a landscape, alone with their thoughts, and seem to be communing. The artist gazes outward at the world, and the muse has closed eyes and a Mona Lisa-inspired smile, a typical Symbolist expression denoting "looking inward at the soul". The exotic cheetah stripes on the Sphinx also shows the wildness of the artist's thoughts.

Most of the metaphors I have just described were likely intended by Khnopff. In our contemporary view, one criticism we may employ is that many of the Symbolists portrayed the men as hero-poets in thrall to not-quite-human women, portraying their anxiety at turn of the century European culture.

It's one example, but The Sphinx begins to show us how many visual metaphors can be packed into a simple painting with two figures.

Next post: an overview of science art & imagery, categorizing them by type of metaphor.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under Creative Commons Licence.
Flying Trilobite Gallery *** Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ***