Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Communicating the Cosmos, and the Role of Science

Neil deGrasse Tyson 'saints of science' illustration by Steven Hughes

I enjoyed this interview by Stephen Colbert (himself, not his character) of Neil deGrasse Tyson. I watched - or rather, listened to, the whole thing. It wasn't that it revealed a great deal of new science (though they do touch on some recent discoveries), it was simply a wide ranging, interesting conversation by gifted communicators. 


I particularly enjoyed hearing how he came to astrophysics, through the shock of actually seeing the stars when he finally made a trip out of the Bronx. Also, his feelings about movies and interactions with James Cameron are both hilarious and make perfect sense. I know that I can handle self-consistent science fiction even when it plays fast and loose with science, but am irked by allegedly accurate SF which isn't. For instance, I was perfectly happy with the highly speculative premise behind Cameron's Avatar of mapping one's mind onto an alien body but irked (*spoiler alert, in case you somehow have not seen the movie*) that the plot centered around the inability to mine something without spoiling the surface environment, which is such a simple problem to solve. We have directional drilling now, here on Earth, which allows resource extraction kilometers away laterally, as well as deep. For a science nerd like Cameron, this seemed just sloppy to me. I'm not trying to imply that mining has no environmental impact (which would be absurd); I'm saying that the specific problem he used is something we already have the technology to avoid. It wouldn't have been hard to come up with a more convincing-to-earth-scientists problem. I'm sure people who don't know anything about drilling into planets would be mystified by this annoyance of mine (though I'm pretty sure the chemists find the imaginary target of the mining, 'unobtanium' hilarious at best and infuriating at worst). In the end, though, science in entertainment isn't a pressing issue, tempting as it may be to employ the power of blockbuster movies made by science enthusiasts to spread knowledge. Far more important, of course, is the cogent argument for a scientifically literate populace, who can question things for themselves, and who comprehend what science is and what it is not.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Electronic Mandalas

Italian-born, London-based multimedia artist Leonardo Ulian has been making art from electronic components. Though he has made interactive sculptures and installations which employ electronics (motors, computer fans, speakers and more), today I bring you a series of works which employ electronics (microchips, resistors, capacitors, diodes) for their esthetics rather than their capabilities.

Title: Technological mandala 04
When: March | 2012
What: Electronic components, microchip, wood frame, 60 x 57 cm

Title: Electronic mandala 01
When: November | 2011
What: Electronic components, microchip, 38 x 35 cm.

Title: Technological mandala 02 (The beginning)
When: June | 2012
What: Electronic components, microchip, wood frame, 120x120 cm

I am tempted to try and read these as circuits (and start deducing the combined effects of the components), though they are strictly art. You can tell because there is no power source, even before you try to identify the chips or deduce how these might work. In theory, one could build complex and active electronics which appeared as elegant as these mandalas. Even when I am doing something as left-brained as laying out a circuit board, I know I think about how it looks and chose wire colours for reasons of beauty... though not to say any of my circuits ever looked sufficiently elegant or symmetric to inspire contemplation, like a mandala.

adafruit blog

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Where entomology meets fashion

French photographer and graphic artist Laurent Seroussi has created a fascinating series of personal works entitled  Insectes combining photos of women (with a rather high fashion aesthetic) and anthropods, including scarab beetles, a leaf insect, a scolopendra centipede, a member of Heteroptera (the "true bugs"), and more. The melding of the women with the insects (and other anthropods) is quite seemless, creating beautiful, contemporary composite creatures, like a modern twist on images of fairies. I find the beautiful images have the intriguing effect of humanizing the 'bugs' rather than making the women into creatures.

Scarabée Chinois





He has an extensive portfolio of photographic and video work, including the more editorial place where jewellery design meets botany.

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