Scientific American Guest Blog

Today on the Scientific American Guest Blog I have a post entitled, Scientific Accuracy in Art. 

In it, I touch on fossils, math, a crucifix and microscopic paint. It attempts to answer: what is science-art for?

Would love if Flying Trilobite readers could head there to comment - disagree, support or ask questions!

The burgeoning field of science-art is one I love to explore.  Recently, I was also on a podcast on Atheists Talk with science-artist Lynn Fellman and host Mike Haubrich, and I have been discussing science-art some more on my own blog as I gear up for ScienceOnline11 in North Carolina in January.

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

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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 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 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.

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Art Monday: guest-post by Jacqueline Dillard

This week, I've invited scientific illustrator and artist Jacqueline Dillard to do a guest post. I'm excited Jacqueline has taken me up on the offer, as she has a fascinating portfolio. This marks the first guest post here on The Flying Trilobite.
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My name is Jacqueline and I will be filling in for Glendon today. I don’t have quite the blogging experience that he does, so I fear that my entry may look a little more like a short essay than anything else. Glendon advised me to just write a little bit about a few of my drawings, like my scientific illustrations or some of my personal art pieces, which got me thinking about the differences between science illustration and science art. I’m sure this is a topic near and dear to both of our hearts, so I figured it would make a fine subject for my post.

I believe the main disparity that can be drawn between science illustration and science art is that science illustration is used to show the importance of art to scientists while science art is used to show the importance of science to artists. An illustration is often purely descriptive and completely devoid of any artistic freedom (lest you summon the wrath of the fussy researcher you’re working for!), yet it still maintains the ability to impress the patron. Unfortunately, most researchers don’t have a scrap of artistic talent (there are of course exceptions to the rule; see Jonathan Kingdon and Ernst Haeckel for a few great examples) so when they are confronted with an image of, say a full reconstruction of an organism they only knew from fossilized bones, it can be quite a moving experience. When I completed my skeletal illustration of the whale-ancestor-like artiodactyl, Indohyus, everyone in the lab was shocked to see that its proportions were much more whale-like than was expected. The astonishment experienced by these paleontologists may be comparable to the wonder felt by artists (or anyone else for that matter) when they are presented with drawings that elucidate the hidden aesthetics of the natural world. With a little artistic expression and a highly magnified reference photo, something as simple as a paper wasp can become a beautiful and seemingly alien creature. There’s nothing quite as great as hearing other artists rave about the shapes, textures and colors used in a drawing, not knowing that it wasn’t the artist’s interpretation, but rather millions of years of evolution (wonderfully color coordinated evolution at that) that gave us the subject matter for these compositions.

Well, that’s all I have, hopefully I haven’t disappointed all the dedicated Flying Trilobite fans out there!

-Jacqueline Dillard
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Original artwork in this post on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow Jacqueline Dillard.

Jacqueline's gallery can be seen here.