Many an intellectual conversation can be had and an essay, argument, or book written, over whether art and science are more SIMILAR or more DIFFERENT from one another, let alone the ways in which they are similar and different, and the value each has to offer society. But, such discussions fade into background noise when we simply allow the possibility for them both to co-exist and form organic connections with each another.
This is what some scientists and science-collaborators do quite naturally; create a means for science and art to co-exist in a mutually beneficial way. Often the art will take the role of communicating the scientific information, and as the scientists themselves express, also help people to more fully understand the phenomenon being studied.
Here are three real world examples of how science can be fashioned into art.
An Ode or Two Will Do
Sean Raymond is an American astrophysicist living in France who researches the formation and evolution of planetary systems, and likes to “balance imagination with science” to communicate ideas to the public. In response to the discovery of the Trappist 1 System, that has created excitement for scientists and non-scientists alike, Sean wrote ‘Ode to 7 Orbs’. Here are three stanza’s from his 19 stanza poem:
“All seven planets are close to their star.
They orbit real fast since they’re not very far
Planet b’s year: one and a half Earth days.
If you lived there you’d have all sorts of birthdays!
Stand on a planet in the TRAPPIST-1 system
Oh, the planets you’d see in the sky – you can’t miss ‘em!
Their orbits are so close that they’d each appear
As big as the full Moon! Bigger when they’re near.
(Imagine the werewolf problem they must fear!)
The Sun in the sky would stay in the same place.
The planets always show to their star the same face.
The planets would shift and sometimes look like crescents
A peek at that sky’s like an antidepressant!”
On Sean’s website, you will find the full poem interspersed with scientific images and models of this intriguing planetary system, along with other inspiring poems and articles.
A Window into Physics
Hubert van Hecke is a heavy-ion physicist who makes stained glass windows as artistic representations of plots from particle physics experiments (plot = plotting statistics as a diagram, often in the form of a graph).
Hubert studied for a physics bachelor degree, but along with it he signed up for a humanities credit in stained glass. After many years working as a physicist, he now makes stained glass windows created out of plots from heavy ion physics, elementary physics and neutrinos. He is also open to expanding his work into using plots from related fields such as biology and astronomy.
Hopefully, one day, Hubert may display his work and, if he does, his intention will be to include explanations about the phenomena that the art piece is based on. In this way he will be communicating science in a uniquely beautiful and informative manner.
Music to My Ears
Mark Ballora is a music technology expert at Pennsylvania State University in State College who creates symphonies, or ‘sonifications’, out of scientific data. (Sonification = turning flat data into sound-waves.) Mark collaborates with scientists from across all the science disciplines to turn their data into music. He has created music out of data for heart rates, deep ocean oxygen and temperature levels, energy from neutron stars, the solar wind, Earth’s electromagnetic resonances and arctic animal temperature cycles.
Mark’s everyday life involves science, art and collaboration forming a vital co-existence, as he works to firstly understand the data, secondly to collaborate with scientists, and thirdly to create the best sound symphonies to fit the data.
Mark believes that “It shouldn't be an unusual thing for us to listen to data. I think we should try to put educational programs together so that young people grow up considering science to be something that you listen to as well as something you look at. As humans, we all respond to music: If we can leverage that with science, there's a real chance of giving students a much more intuitive understanding of the material than they would get from a visual presentation alone.”
You can read more about Mark’s work, and listen to a sonification example, at the Science Mag website.