The beauty of science catches the eye and engages the mind.

By Brooke O’Neill, AM’04

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Whether watching polymers self-assemble or simulating the explosion of a white dwarf star, researchers often capture images as visually stunning as they are scientifically insightful. “I’ve always found great beauty in the forms and symmetries seen in materials,” says Seth Darling, PhD’02, of Argonne National Laboratory’s Center for Nanoscale Materials. Using optical and atomic-force microscopes, he has photographed molecules contorting themselves into intricate designs that might be taken for contemporary art.

Blown-up samples of Darling’s work are on display as part of Argonne’s Art of Science photo contest. Fifteen winning submissions spanning nanotechnology, astronomy, and biochemistry were announced in January, made into posters, and are being sold as postcards at the lab. The top three received nominal cash prizes.

Exploring the art-science nexus is a goal that reaches beyond the contest. In March Julie Marie Lemon, MLA’07, was named project manager for the University’s Arts and Science initiative. The campus-wide effort encourages collaboration among physics, biology, chemistry, visual arts, and other disciplines. A March 11 panel of Argonne, Fermilab, and University researchers included astrophysicist Nick Gnedin, nanoscientist Elena Shevchenko, and art historian Barbara Stafford, PhD’72. The topic: how to strengthen public understanding of science and technology through artistic expression. 

“Both artists and scientists are operating at the edges of possibility,” said panelist Jason Salavon, a visual-arts and Computation Institute assistant professor who uses custom-designed software to make artwork. The “shared spaces” of exploration between disciplines, he said, create a similar “sense of wonder” between the two camps.

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For more images, view the Flickr set of Art in Science images.


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