Posts tagged science art

Posted 2 years ago


Back when I was more artist and less chemist than now I attempted to make a light-weight sculpture that looked like stone. I carved my desired figures in styrofoam and then I coated it in a thick paste made of acetone and gravel. I knew acetone melted styrofoam and my thought was that the pebbles would stick in the surface as it dissolved, giving it the appearance of stone. Mostly I ended up with a fuming puddle of gravelly foam goo…

Luckily, Takashi Masabuchi, a student at the Tokyo University of the Arts, has the right mix of artistry and chemistry (and patience) to make this idea work.

Masabuchi doesn’t just use solvents but also oil-based paints dripped slowly over the surface of styrofoam blocks.

Masabuchi basically employs the old adage “like dissolves like”. Polystyrene (styrofoam), acetone, turpentine, the drying oils in paints - all of these are petroleum based or derived from plant oils. The non-polar liquids can easily dissolve the non-polar solid.

Of course polystyrene plastics (such as CD cases) don’t dissolve if you spill nail polish remover (acetone) on them. Styrofoam will dissolve however since it is a highly-aerated polystyrene with lots of surface area for the solvent to react with. Think of dissolving granulated sugar vs. chunky raw sugar.

But that’s enough chemistry for one day though - let’s see the art.

Posted 2 years ago
"We especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but is somewhat beauty and poetry."
Maria Mitchell, astronomer, first female member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
reblogged from desertstars:
(digital media, photos from UCSD Branson, HubbleSite, and art*setter)

"We especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but is somewhat beauty and poetry."

Maria Mitchell, astronomer, first female member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences

reblogged from desertstars:

(digital media, photos from UCSD Branson, HubbleSite, and art*setter)

Posted 2 years ago

Painting With Fireworks

Amateur photographer David Johnson has been getting a lot of much-deserved attention lately for his beautiful long-exposure photos of fireworks.

By carefully refocusing over a second or two of exposure time he was able to capture these explosions with a stunning, painterly grace.

This technique required Johnson to carefully time his adjustments by using the sound of the launch as his cue. He explains his process in detail here.

These photos reminded me of some other visual artists who also work in pyrotechnics. Rosemarie Fiore paints with burning fireworks using the incendiary residues as her media.

Fiore uses live ground blooms, jumping jacks and other consumer fireworks which she carefully controls with wooden templates, buckets, and brushes during combustion.

The final works are often large-scale collages of many explosions, finished with burns and spatterings of sparks.

Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang creates enormous site-specific pieces that are as much performance art as visual. Guo-Qiang lays down exacting stencils of gunpowder and fuses over rice paper. Layers of hemp paper, wood, rocks are layered over the gunpowder in order to control or contain the smoke and flame where necessary.

An artist working in many media Guo-Qiang first experimented with gunpowder paintings as a reaction to the more staid Chinese artistic traditions (such as ink painting) which he despised as a student. Guo-Qiang now says that he appreciates his training in these techniques - and these highly controlled techniques are evident even in these very spontaneous works.

Guo-Qiang’s work blends destruction and creation, physics and meta-physics, the instantaneous explosion and unfathomably ancient minerals used in gunpowder. He often extemporizes on the dual nature of this work, how it is it to capture antiquity in a few fleeting seconds. This film shows the creation of Sky Ladder,a site-specific work at MOCA.

Cai Guo-Qiang: Sky Ladder from Antony Crook on

Artworks from top down: Efflorescence #4, Efflorescence #22, Untitled, Firework Drawing #21, Firework Drawing #58, Touring Mountains, and Tree with Yellow Blossoms,

Posted 2 years ago

Painting With Photosynthesis

Twenty years ago the outline of a ladder left out on a lawn inspired two sculptors, Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey, to investigate using live plants and the process of photosynthesis to “paint”. Probably no other artists currently working incorporate so many of my interests, scientifically and aesthetically.

Ackroyd and Harvey construct large-scale “canvases” of sod in darkrooms and then expose the lawn to a 400W projector bulb shown through a photographic negative, literally “developing” the image in differential pigmentation. The well-lit portions develop a deeper green and much more chlorophyll, the shaded portions produce lighter tones devoid of the key photosynthetic pigment.

This work has lead the artists to a beautiful collaboration with scientists Howard Thomas and Helen Ougham at theInstitute of Grassland and Environmental Research where they have been studying the biochemistry, genetics, and mechanisms of senescence in grasses.

Ackroyd and Harvey are now using a strain of stay-green grass developed at IGER that extends the lifetime of these transient artworks from just a few months to a more than a year before the inevitable yellowing and fading that eventually takes all photographs. This unique grass does not recycle chlorophyll upon senescence, rather the pigment remains in the leaf to disappear gradually through photo-oxidation.

The tactile process of capturing the light of an image in biomass gives new freedom to imagine or reinterpret our relationship to nature, either as stewards, captors, or creators.

Posted 2 years ago

Data Compression as Art

In the piece Tele-Present Water artist David Bowen uses real-time wave height and velocity data from NOAA buoy #46246 far off the coast of British Columbia to direct the movement of an articulated sculpture hung in an exhibition space.

The incredibly chaotic surface of the sea has been compressed into a simple grid and the essence of the ocean re-imagined.

Posted 2 years ago

The Catenary

A chain hanging by two ends under its own weight will form a curved shape called the catenary or “chain curve”. Galileo had believed this shape should be a parabola but in 1690 Leibniz, Huygens, and Bernoulli described this curve not as a parabolic polynomial, but as y = a cosh(x/a). Since this shape is not described by a polynomial it is termed a “transcendental function”, meaning it is non-algebraic, dimensionless.

Artist David Lettelier has captured the transcendental beauty of the catenary function in a sonic sculpture constructed from hundreds of thin wires. Called Caten this piece is housed at the Chapelle du vieux St-Sauveur in Caen.

The sculpture is suspended at four points, each point by a rotating motor that also generates a tone with each full revolution. Together the motors play the first four notes of Ut Queant Laxis, the Hymn to St. John the Baptist.

The deep, harmonic drone of the hymn combined with the hushed metallic rustling of the shifting wires as they readjust to sustain the chain-curve create a truly beautiful, hypnotic experience for both eyes and ears. Please enjoy…

Posted 2 years ago

From explore-blog:

Human hippocampus stained with a method pioneered by Italian physician Camillo Golgi in 1873.

"Golgi discovered a chemical reaction that allowed him to examine nervous tissue in much greater detail than ever before. For some reason, hardening a piece of brain in potassium dichromate, and subsequently dousing it with silver nitrate, dyed only a few cell bodies and their respective projections in the tissue sample, revealing their complete structures and exact arrangement within the unstained tissue. If the reaction had stained all the neurons in a sample, Golgi would have been left with an unfathomable black blotch, as though someone had spilled a bottle of ink. Instead, his technique yielded neat black silhouettes against a translucent yellow background."

Read more in Scientific American’s Know Your Neurons series.

Posted 2 years ago

Life Enlightened

Bioluminescence is the ability for an organism to create light by a physiological, chemical reaction. The ability to glow has evolved many times and is widespread throughout the animal and bacterial kingdoms. In the deep sea those animals that do not have the ability to glow on their own will form partnerships with microbiota that can. Nearly 90% of abyssal creatures are bioluminescent.

Even on land many animals have harnessed the power of light - insects, beetles, worms. Some glow to attract mates, others to warn predators or capture prey, still others to mimic another more dangerous luminescent creature.

Outside the animal kingdom fungus have also evolved the capacity to luminesce. Insects are attracted to the glowing caps and then disperse spores from mushroom to mushroom as they investigate the source of light.

Imitating nature, artists have attempted to capture the beauty of bioluminescent creatures. Yayoi Kusama used tiny lights, mirrors, and pools of water in an installation at the Whitney to recreate the mating displays of the golden fireflies that swarm the forests of Japan.

Others have used the organisms themselves as part of the piece. Using petri dishes to “paint” patterns, Angela Bowlds uses bioluminescent bacteria to create large-scale ephemeral installations.

Following on this style geneticist Hunter Cole assembles intimate collections of glowing dishes as drawings. Both women describe the microbiota as their “collaborators” in these works.

On a grander scale, Octave Augustin Marie Perrault constructed a collection of bioluminescent billboards on the shores of the Galapagos Islands. This piece was intended to be viewed from out at sea.

Science has now followed on art and nature. Bioengineers at UCSD assemble colonies of bioluminescent bacteria into microfluidic chips inhabited by thousands of fluorescent E. coli. Each chip contains thousands of individual organisms

These organisms have been manipulated to synchronize their luminescence in response to chemical triggers. In this way the chips are assembled into actual billboards containing thousands of these “biopixels”.

The goal now is to incorporate these glowing communities into architecture and urban design. Imagine a streetlight that needs no electricity since it is powered by bacteria or the stock tickers and billboards of Times Square illuminated only by thousands of organisms…

Posted 2 years ago

Singing house

The Singing House is implemented with musical triggers that respond to wind, sunlight, and raindrops, as well as thunder and lightening. The house produces music for the inhabitants constantly in response to the elements and, as with the weather, every day and every song is different.

Click on the photo to view and hear a film of the house in action.

Posted 2 years ago

Spinning Sound and Light

Daniel Palacios piece Waves is an interactive sculpture that generates sound and waveform via string suspended between two turbines. The turbines spin the string in patterns, depending on the motion and orientation of viewers. The spinning creates a hypnotic hum, allowing viewer both sight and sound.

This piece reminds me of a recent work by Sebastian Guenneau and others who have developed lenses that redirect light and sound in directions previously impossible. These lenses feature a “gradient, in the refractive index of a lens, the scientists could create anisotropies – that is, make the lens’ refractive index directionally dependent.” See a demonstration here

Manipulation of sound and light in this manner will surely lead to many interesting interpretations - I hope maybe Palacios and Geanneau can colloborate!

While it is impossible to fully understand Waves without interacting with the piece this video allows us the auditory experience.