Stories tagged art and science

Pine Needles cabin
Pine Needles cabinCourtesy Dave Brandon
Many people don't realize that the Science Museum of Minnesota features a world class water and environmental research station 40 minutes outside the cities on the Saint Croix river. Even fewer know about their long standing artist in residence program at the Pine Needles cabin. This year's crop of artists have just been announced. Having just made a trip out to this lovely neck of the woods myself, I'm excited to see what they come up with.


World's smallest giraffe: Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) image depicting a baby giraffe
World's smallest giraffe: Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) image depicting a baby giraffeCourtesy Image courtesy of the Materials Research Society Science as Art Competition and Shaahin Amini and Reza Abbaschian, University of California Riverside
Materials science is the study of the relationship between the structure of materials at the atomic or molecular scales and their properties at the macroscale. Materials scientists do a lot of monkeying around at super small scales, and the Materials Research Society (the organization that brings together materials scientists from academia, industry, and government) has given them a creative outlet. At each of their annual meetings, MRS includes a Science as Art competition, where any registered meeting attendee can enter an image they have created. The images are pretty amazing in their own right, but when you think about the methods, medium, and scale used to create them, it's truly mind-boggling! Here are some of the best entries from past meetings, and some video versions of selected works as well.


art in a petri dish
art in a petri dishCourtesy Eshel Ben-Jacob
Take a close look at the image pictured here. Do you think it's the work of an artist, a scientist, or some other living organism?

The answer is: all of the above.

Eshel Ben-Jacob, an Israeli artist who is also a scientific researcher, created the image in collaboration with tens of billions of microorganisms, a colony of bacteria living in a petri dish. Why did he do it?

He was curious about how bacteria cope with stress in their environment, for example when humans try to eliminate them using antibiotics. One way he found to study the coping strategies of these persistent microbes was by creating stressful petri dish environments and studying how the living organisms respond. The results are beautiful and complex patterns like this one, which also tell a story about how living organisms adapt.

Turns out that bacteria actually cooperate to solve challenges, communicating to exchange genetic information that tells them how to survive as a group. It's a kind of underlying social intelligence, one that can make it difficult for us humans to keep up. In the case of the image here, you can see how the colony branches out in search of nutrients. That's just one of the things these researcher were able to learn more about by studying petri dish patterns.

Eshel Ben-Jacob realized that in addition to loads of interesting scientific data, these colonies make thought provoking artworks, reminding us never to underestimate the adaptive powers of living organisms. He added a bit of color to the patterns and has compiled a series of the resulting images in an online gallery. Take a look, and let me know what you see!

Ben-Jacob's work is also part of a fascinating collection cataloged on the website Microbial Art, which features artworks by scientists and artists from around the world who use a wide variety of taxa and techniques. You may not see it hanging in an art museum, but it's one of the most interesting examples of science-art collaborations that I've ever seen.

ArtworkCourtesy Artefact

No, I'm not talking about our ARTifactor who blogs here on the Science Buzz. I'm talking about Artefact, an "artist's resource inspired by the University of Oxford Museums." The easily navigable site offers photos, graphics, and other depictions of objects found in the collections of the university's four museums (The Pitt Rivers Museum, The Museum of the History of Science, the Natural History Museum, and the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology). Each offers stuff you can download for use in your own artwork. Or if you don't have an artistic bone in your body, you can browse through galleries and sketchbooks of artwork by other people who do, and even watch how pieces of art get created from scratch. Whatever the case it's worth a look-see.


Princeton University is sponsoring its first Art of Science competition. They have asked scientists in the large Princeton University science community to submit images that were created in process of scientific inquiry. One of my favorite examples is a composite picture of 150 people's faces created as part of a Computer Science study.

Here at the museum we often try to think of unique ways to combine art and science. Try this fun activity making paints out of acid base indicators or this activity making bubble art (our results).