Archive for the 'Art & Science' category

Ant vision and other animal superpowers

Mar 01 2011 Published by under Art & Science, Biology & Environment

Imagine you were an ant, crawling through the grass.  You would have a view of your surroundings invisible to the people towering above you.

Or imagine you are a bird, using your ability to sense Earth's magnetic field to migrate halfway around the world.

Interactive media designers and artists Chris Woebken and Kenichi Okada collaborated to provide people with the experience of experiencing the world the way non-human animals do.   They call these animal superpowers.

For example they have developed an ant apparatus that uses microscope "antennas" on your hands to transmit a 50-fold magnified view of wherever your hand is resting. Watch their promo video:

As you can see, they've also developed a head-mounted solenoid compass that's supposed to provide a bird's sense of a direction. There's also a cool child to adult converter, which lets a kid see the world from an adult's height and speak in a deeper voice. I would have loved that when I was 10.

Watching regular people try out the ant apparatus makes it look like it's an interesting experience.

The project is ongoing, and Woebken has considered a number of other "superpowers" he could mimic through technology - for example insect communication through pheromones.

More info: Chris Woebken | Animal Superpowers

(via the TED blog)

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Do-it-yourself 3-D Bioscience Modelling

Feb 17 2011 Published by under Art & Science

A picture's worth a thousand words.  Sometimes even more.  I think that's especially true when trying to imagine microscopic organisms and molecules, that simply can't be seen with the naked eye. And even better than a flat picture is a three-dimensional model that you can move and manipulate.

I have on good authority that it used to be that if you wanted to create a 3D image on your home computer you would have to invest in expensive software and wait seemingly forever for models to be processed or rendered.  But almost a decade ago, Blender - a free open source 3D modeling application - was released to the public. And over the years personal computers have gotten fast enough that it doesn't take days to render your images.

Blender has been used to make some pretty amazing animated shorts. But it's uses aren't limited to entertainment and commercials.

Blender Image Rendering

Blender rendering a microbe image.

Issue #31 (December 2010) of BlenderArt Magazine takes a look at how Blender can be used "Under the Microscope" to demonstrate scientific principles and visualize microrganisms and microscopic cellular components.

Biomolecular visualization specialists Raluca Mihaela Andrei, Mike Pan and Monica Zoppè, write about how to use BioBlender.  BioBlender is a Windows application used to view and manipulate 3D protein models using data from the  RCSB Protein Data Bank (pdb files).

An example of their work is  the video Protein Expressions (there is a stereo version on their web site):

In the same issue, physicist Enrique Sahagún describes how he animated a kinesin protein motor transporting a vesicle down a microtubule.  The result:

The magazine includes some full-page images that demonstrate  nicely that  biological visualizations on the microscopic level can be both powerful science and beautiful art.

You can download Issue 31 of BlenderArt Magazine- along with sample .blend files. - for free at The issue are also includes a couple of articles about creating physics visualizations, if bioscience isn't your thing.

If you are in the Boston area, you might want to consider attending the BioBlender workshop at the VizBi (Visualizing Biological Data) conference  on March 19th at the Broad Institute in Cambridge.

3D Models created with Blender:

Virtual worm @ WormBase

• IFC-CNR Scientific Visualization Unit videos and blender files

Firing Neurons, the Cell Dance 2010 Public Outreach Video Winner

•  XVIVO's Powering the Cell (I don't know that they used Blender, but it's fantastic animation)

Molecular Shots Portfolio

Online tutorials :

Jonathan Williams demonstrates how to use Blender to model a Microscopic Virus

Frederik Steinmetz shows how to construct a "Microcosm" using Blender 2.5


The image at the top is one of the Blender Magazine sample images in the process of rendering. I actually don't have any experience making 3D animations myself.  Thanks to Brian (who does use Blender) for pointing the magazine out to me!

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The Sound of Science

Oct 04 2010 Published by under Art & Science, Biology & Environment

How do you think a doctor knows

How a disease like cancer grows?

How did we learn how we might treat it?

How do you think one day might beat it?

It won't be by taking sugar pills or standing on one leg for hours

While eating flowers:

But through the powers of science.

(You can get all the lyrics on the "Sound of Science" YouTube page)

(via Ask Nicola. )

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Colorful Cell Division

Sep 27 2010 Published by under Art & Science

Michele Banks is a self-taught artist whose latest collection of watercolor paintings take their inspiration from mitosis (cell division) as seen through a microscope.

New Scientist has a video profile of the artist and her work:



For comparison, the images on the right show dividing cells labeled with fluorescent dyes, as seen under a microscope :

Even if her watercolors aren't scientifically perfect, I think Banks does capture the essence of cell division in a lovely way.

Banks sells her "Artologica" collection through Etsy and Makers Market .

Photos of cell division by Roy van Heesbeen on Wikimedia Commons: Prometaphase, Anaphase, Telophase

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Dance your PhD: How does your brain analyze incoming visual information?

Sep 24 2010 Published by under Art & Science, Brain & Behavior

The finalists in the 2010 Dance Your Ph.D. contest have been announced. The competition is open to all science PhDs (or soon-to-be-PhDs) willing submit a video of a dance interpretation of their PhD thesis. And yes, the author of the thesis has to be one of the dancers.

A finalist for each category - Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Social Science - was announced last week. The finalist in biology was "How does your brain analyze incoming visual information?", by Utrecht University gradutate student Maartje de Jong.

She explains:

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.

[. . . snip . . . ]

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.

Read the rest of the explanation of her research - and the dance - here.

Check out the the finalists' videos and vote for your favorite at ScienceNOW. The overall winner will be announced on October 19th at the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York.

You can watch all the entries on the Gonzo Labs web site.

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Here Comes Science!

Aug 29 2010 Published by under Art & Science, Biology & Environment

I've been enjoying the quirky animated music videos for the songs from Here Comes Science, They Might be Giants' album of science songs for kids. Eric Siegel, Director and Chief Content Officer of the New York Hall of Science, advised TMBG on the content.

Here are a few about biology:

The Bloodmobile from They Might Be Giants with animation by Divya Srinivasan.

Photosynthesis from They Might Be Giants with animation by Pascal Campion.

My Brother the Ape from They Might Be Giants with animation by Matt Canale.

Cells from They Might Be Giants with animation by David Cowles

They Might Be Giants - Science Is Real from They Might Be Giants.

You can see all the videos from the album on Vimeo or YouTube

You can download the lyrics and guitar tabs for the songs on "Here Comes Science" from this might be a wiki. Perfect for your next sing-along!

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Glass Microbes and Colorless Viruses

Aug 19 2010 Published by under Art & Science

Electron micrograph of the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus

3D representation of the influenza virus

Look at the two images of the H1N1 influenza virus - the strain that causes swine flu - on the right.

The first is a three-dimensional illustration that shows different parts of the virus in different colors  - the hemagglutinin protein on the surface is blue, for example, while the RNA and associated proteins inside the virus are green.

The second is an electron micrograph image of the same virus. It's a more "realistic" depiction of the influenza virus than the 3D illustration, but it has been artificially colored.

UK artist Luke Jerram was intrigued by the fact that both types of images false in their own way. To explore how artificial coloring can affect our understanding, he worked with University of Bristol virologist Andrew Davidson to create  a series of clear glass sculptures that accurately depict different viruses including the influenza virus, HIV, SARS and smallpox.

Here is Jerram's sculpture of the H1N1 influenza virus:

As he explained in an interview with the Wellcome Trust:

The series is a reflection of my interest in how images of phenomena are represented and presented to the public. I’m colour blind and this has given me a natural interest in exploring the edges of perception.

Often images of viruses are taken in black and white on an electron microscope and then they are coloured artificially using Photoshop. Sometimes that will be for scientific purposes but other times it will be just to add emotional content or to make the image more attractive.

The problem is that you end up with the public believing that viruses are these brightly coloured objects. These are often portrayed in newspapers as having an air of scientific authenticity and objective truth, whereas actually that isn’t the case. You can end up with some images that potentially promote fear.

Smallpox, HIV and Untitled glass virus sculptures

Swine Flu Sculpture

Glass swine flu sculpture by Luke Jerra

I think Jerram's virus sculptures are quite beautiful. However, they don't make the viruses any more or less frightening - or real - to me.

What do you think?

The first two images are from the CDC Newsroom Image Library. The illustration is by Dan Higgins, CDC. The electron micrograph is by C. S. Goldsmith and A. Balish, CDC.

Glass virus photographs by Luke Jerram.

Thanks to Chris for sharing the link to Jerram's web site!

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Contribute to Imogen Heap’s "Love the Earth" film.

Aug 16 2010 Published by under Art & Science

Mellow British singer songwriter Imogen Heap wants your nature video footage to show at her debut performance at Royal Albert Hall in November. She writes:

Perhaps you have clips already sitting on your hard drive that are beautiful but are just gathering digital dust, or maybe film gathering a layer of the real stuff in the attic. They need a home too!
It could be a sunrise from your bedroom window, underwater deep sea diving, a flower in a pavement crack, mist over mountains, reeds in rivers, a rare wild cat, rolling desert dunes, the northern lights, a sycamore seed helicoptering down or a cotton wool cloud.
We want everyone to explore the colours, lights, shades, rhythms and patterns of nature. Moments that fill us with wonder.

No people and no pets, but otherwise any sort of nature goes.

Check out the promo video to get a sense of Heap's style, musically and otherwise.

See the official site for "Love the Earth" for details and instructions for submitting your video

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