This is a very cool new program of the Imagine Science Film Festival.
“Imagine a filmmaker interested in genetics immersing himself in the life of a biotechnology lab, to observe the research process and talk with research scientists. Together the filmmaker and a geneticist conceive and produce a short film. It might be an animated dream of dancing chromosomes, the story of an escaped fruitfly’s night on the town, or anything else that emerges from this cross-pollination of science and art.”
Joe Lopina, animation faculty in the UNCSA School of Filmmaking, offers this update about the progress of his ARTStem Faculty Project, “Science Giants.” ARTStem has supported Lopina’s continuing work with students at Winston-Salem’s Brunson Elementary School—which combines puppetry, animation, storytelling, and STEM education. Joe writes:
The puppets are nearly complete and the science exploration is in full gear. The fourth-grade students have been busy investigating the properties and concepts of “electricity and magnetism” and I’ve had the opportunity to spend somewhere between 10 and 15 hours with them in the classroom. I’ve recorded over 2 hours of classroom activity (and a few student interviews) and will continue instructing, observing, and recording over the next few weeks.
The puppet and prop construction has been keeping me very busy. . . . The seven puppets I am building required 140 pieces of foam and 210 pieces of fleece or fur. Holding all the pieces together is a gallon of contact cement, countless hot-glue sticks, and a mile or so of thread. Each puppet requires 50 individual pieces to make the base model and the detail work (eyes, eyebrows, whiskers, hair, etc.) will require a few more pieces to be cut, sewn, and glued together.
Five of the puppets will be members of a band called “The Free Electrons” who will perform a song currently titled “Take Cover” – about lightning. The song is being written and performed by a Rock/Blues band from Newton, NC. Lightning is one of the topics included in the North Carolina Standard Course of Study and the lyrics of the song will support and reinforce the content area. I found an appropriately scaled drum kit at a local toy store and a great little organ on an internet auction site. The three guitars had to be built from scratch and are constructed from wood, foam, and fiberglass (they are scaled-down, slightly distorted versions of popular guitars).
” . . . If there is a Steven Spielberg of molecular animation, it is probably Drew Berry, a cell biologist who works for the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia. Mr. Berry’s work is revered for artistry and accuracy within the small community of molecular animators, and has also been shown in museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. In 2008, his animations formed the backdrop for a night of music and science at the Guggenheim Museum called ‘Genes and Jazz.’ ‘Scientists have always done pictures to explain their ideas, but now we’re discovering the molecular world and able to express and show what it’s like down there,’ Mr. Berry said. ‘Our understanding is just exploding.’ . . . “
From Matthew Nisbet’s smart “Age of Engagement” blog at Big Think, a column about the discussion within science education regarding the need to innovate better ways of inserting “informal learning” opportunities into the “formal” settings of schools. I was struck by the following passage, in which Nisbet mentions a few areas of opportunity; particularly, the emphasis on narrative and the “civic” or social contextualization of scientific issues. These seem like reasonable places for the performing arts and STEM education to identify collaborative potential . . .
” . . . Affective factors such as providing for free choice, creating activities that are internally driven and challenging, encouraging wonder, delight, and awe, and making activities entertaining, interesting, and enjoyable; factors related to learning science that include holistic, trans-disciplinary content; emphasis on transferring knowledge across contexts and drawing on student existing knowledge; emphasis on narrative; and presentations that are jargon-free and in the active voice; factors related to learning about science that include drawing active connections to community, personal relevance, built around social interaction with others on the science topic; and presenting science as messy, human, and exploratory in nature, addressing real and current problems. . . .”
‘I saw it with my own eyes!’ We tend to believe what we see with our eyes is real and accurate. What we often do not realize is that our eyes register only a reflection of the outside world. To reconstruct reality from this reflection we have to rely on inferences and assumptions. It is like putting together the pieces of a puzzle without any knowledge about the whole picture. Our brain does this without our conscious awareness. In a split second it organizes and interprets incoming visual information to form a stable and meaningful image of the world around us. The brain does not analyze all the incoming information in detail, though. Only the most relevant or interesting part is permitted through the ‘gateway to consciousness’. The rest of the information you are not aware of. For example, when you concentrate on your television set you will not see the painting hanging above it on the wall. Every individual also has internal neural factors, such as memory, that influence the brain’s interpretation of information. For example, when you have experienced something before, it is hard to see things ‘differently’ on a second encounter. The information registered by your eyes intermingles with a blueprint of the previous encounter you have stored in your memory. Your image of the outside world thus is a mixture of incoming visual information and internal neural factors. Therefore, it is a personal experience unique to you. ‘You look with your eyes, but you see with your brain!’ Short explanation of the video: Our video explains the basics of how the brain analyzes visual information. You see a man (‘the observer’) watching a movie-clip on his laptop. The visual information presented on his laptop is registered by his eyes and translated into neural signals that enter his brain. Through dance we portray what happens inside the observer’s brain. The leading dancer in the video, who can be recognized by the brain depicted on his clothing, represents the observer’s internal neural factors, such as his goals and experiences. The dancers with an information-icon depicted on their clothing (‘the i-dancers’) represent the incoming visual information. In the observer’s brain the visual information is organized and features that belong together are grouped (the leading dancer puts the i-dancers in the correct positions). Then, one piece of the visual information is selected for detailed neural analysis (in the foreground the leading dancer examines one of the i-dancers). The neural processing of the other information is suppressed (the other i-dancers make slower movements in the background). When the observer is interrupted by a phone call the neural analysis of the visual information dies out (all dancers fall on the ground). After the phone call the observer looks at his laptop again. He now remembers the movie-clip on his laptop. The organization of the visual information inside his brain is more efficient than before (the leading dancer groups the i-dancers fast and deliberately). Also, the visual information has become predictable (the leading dancer knows the choreography of the i-dancers). For detailed neural processing the observer’s brain easily selects the same piece of visual information as before (the leading dancer guides his favorite i-dancer to the foreground again), which now interacts with the internally stored blueprint (the leading dancer and the favorite i-dancer dance together). ‘The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.’ Henri-Louis Bergson 1859-1941. French philosopher and Literature Nobel Prize winner in 1927 see http://www.maartjedejong.com/Pictures/dance/dancephotos.htm for a visual explanation, news and extras about this video. ‘Dance Your Ph.D.’ Finalists Announced – ScienceNOW.
from the "Morphology" website at http://users.design.ucla.edu/~mflux/morphology/details.htm. "The work here is known as "computer based model building", and the analogy here is multicellular biology. It's just like making a map on the ground, letting twigs and rocks represent landmarks, paths, and places of interests. Here I'm allowing equally crude forms and behaviors represent highly complex things, such as the laws of physics, chemistry, and systems of biology."
An article from SEED Magazine, “Getting Past the Pie Chart,” took me back to some of the most interesting ideas we talked about in the first ARTStem seminar in August of 2009, which revolved around the art of visualizing information or data. That’s not a new kind of activity, of course, but digital tools offer a lot of new kinds of experimenting with how to visually communicate information. And on the flip side, modern science and new technologies for data collection are producing data sets so huge and deep that they defy (or at least threaten to) traditional modes of representation.
To my mind, this is where everything comes together–this is where the shared project of the humanities, the arts, and the sciences reveals itself. At root, we’re all working at the very complicated interstices of knowledge discovery, organization, and representation/communication. This is one of the junctions where I think all art and design practices can play a powerful role in facilitating public understanding of, and civic dialogue about, complicated issues involving global scales, big numbers, and levels of interconnection and interdependence that are near impossible to wrap our heads around.
If you’ve never looked at it before, check out this IBM project called ManyEyes. It’s geared toward the ‘democratization of visualization’ and provides tools to creatively visualize and map data sets, ostensibly to render meaningful important information that, in the absence of effective representation, never travels that last, most difficult path from being raw information to becoming human knowledge. There’s also some pretty cool links there. For example, this at VisualComplexity.com. In particular, this blog entry on different ways of “visualizing music and sound” captured my interest. Here’s a video of a music visualization of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.
How excellent would it be to have an ARTStem project that somehow combined students in the sciences (or social sciences, for that matter) collecting data of different sorts on topics of importance (researching, surveying, fieldwork, etc.), learning to manipulate and mine for meaning with digital applications, thinking critically about modes of representation, and perhaps even communicating with more dramatic, performative strategies, too?
Something of this ilk has actually been done in recent years by the Winston-Salem Light Project (led by UNCSA D&P’s Norman Coates), come to think of it, which has done some awesome light projections, including some with real pedagogical content. Check that out this year if you have a chance.
Another video from the Imagine Science Festival. Particularly interesting is the introductory statement about how the “language of science” offers a rich metaphorical entrypoint into the “human experience.”
The great E.O. Wilson (whose book, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge helped inspire ARTStem) was on Charlie Rose recently to tout his new book, his debut work of fiction, Anthill. He had some interesting things to say about why, late in his career, he turned to fiction:
“I finally realized people respect nonfiction, but they read novels. If you have a story to tell, as I think, well, one famous Hollywood producer put it–Howard Hawks— ‘Find a good story and tell it!” Well, we have a lot of good stories to tell in science about the natural world. We have a lot of messages about the living world. We’ve been putting it across for a long time in nonfiction works and we’re not making the type of progress that we’d like to make.” —E.O. Wilson
Once again, it all comes back to story. It’s that common ground, a solvent in which everything we study and teach about—artists, humanists, scientists alike—dissolves into one shared project.
A flurry of noticings about art and scientific communication from the past week.
← And don’t miss the Carl Sagan auto-tuning to the left
Last week’s American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Foundation announced winners of their annual Visualization of Science and Engineering contest. Some great stuff–including a collaboration between a WFU neuroscientist and a cartoonist. The press release about the winners makes some interesting points, such as:
“. . . By making science aesthetically appealing, science becomes more accessible to people, said Hoon, who won first place in the Photography category with team members Boaz Pokroy and Joanna Aizenberg of Harvard University. “Public outreach has always been a weak side of science,” he added. “By adding art and metaphors to our research portfolio, we, as citizens, can send a clear message to the world: Science—at its core—is focused on the problems of societal importance. This will work better than detailed (and often incomprehensible) scientific debates...” [continue reading . . .]
Put simply, science has a moral charge of engaging with issues of importance and distributing knowledge to broader publics. And art–the wielding of metaphor and narrative–is the medium through which that is done. Here’s a link to the National Science Foundation’s website and the winners.
The title is opaque but it’s got a lot to to do w/ the study of complex networks that we read about in August. Finding ways to illustrate orderings/structures that emerge out of these seemingly chaotic networks—we’re all going to have to get better at it to be bringing students into engagement with new knowledge frontiers, aren’t we? Whether we’re teaching about the brain, social change, or the algorithmic basis of natural systems . . .
How to represent BIG IDEAS visually. A how-to guide produced by a Lemelson-MIT collaboration. Communicating through cartoons. Beautifully done.
Last week’s American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in San Diego featured this panel on THEATER as a mode of public communication. What’s that mean? Seems to me an important claim: that theater/performance is PART OF the scientific method! Coverage of the panel here:
Really interesting article in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education about the increasing collaboration between academic science and Hollywood. ARTICLE. Particularly important–this isn’t just about filmmakers mining scientific knowledge and know-how, but about science recognizing it’s own existence within mediated fields of knowledge and its dependence on film (and other media) as a key shaper of debates and public understanding.
David A. Kirby is one of the scholars mentioned. Here’s his website, which features some interesting essays about the interaction between science and cinema.
Also of interest, the National Academy of Sciences 2-yr-old program–The Science and Entertainment Exchange. Check out the website here. Related video below, featuring Seth Macfarlane.
Other related notes:
Recent symposium at the UPenn Annenberg School of Communication on the “performative” dimension of science–featuring “a wide range of scholars and leading practitioners in the area of the history of performance, science and scientific performance to discuss how persuasive rhetorical skills and public performance are central to the business of making scientific knowledge real.“