Science Is Beautiful

ferrofluid.jpg

Via Cosmic Variance, a really good collaborative physics blog, I found a post about the work of Felice Frankel, a research scientist and science photographer who made the beautiful image of a ferrofluid above.

What I find so compelling about this post are Frankel’s interesting position that she is not an artist (I strongly disagree — and I have a feeling my whole life is going to be art guided by science, and that the work I do will somehow be both), and the poster’s take on what is “true” with regard to depicting the natural world.

In watching the magnificent Walking With… BBC series on the prehistoric world, I found myself confounded by how much of the script was imagination, and how much was based on compelling evidence from the natural world and the fossil record. But the fact remains that the show is interesting and invigorating science, just exactly the kind of thing that converts a bright and imginative child to paleontology or scientific visualization on the spot. Is this series somehow both art and science, legitimately both? I think it is. I think it’s a perfect example of a place where the two disciplines meet, and respect and assist one another as they collaborate.

In his post, Daniel of Cosmic Variance mentions how astronomical images are altered, with nonvisible elements like infrared radiation shown, color manipulated, etc. What you would see if you looked through through Hubble yourself, and what we see in digitally manipulated Hubble photos are often completely different. And the photos aren’t manipulated primarily to make them “prettier,” but to make them more understandable. Different gases are shown in different colors. Light frequencies that are invisible to the eye are made visible. Scientific integrity is arguably preserved, but the images are changed, their elements made more understandable, and sometimes, yes, the images are prettier.

Read the post here.

Art and science are not mutually exclusive. There are places where they meet and work together. Art and science can and should and do work together, and science is not “contaminated” by being presented as compelling, interesting and full of life, color, wonder and beauty. A research scientist can make art, no matter how unwilling she might be to call her work that, and to call herself an artist. There’s neither snobbery nor pretense in a statement that merely delivers the truth.

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