On the Edges of Art and Science

In 2015, Alexandra Griffin and Jeffrey Rubel created On the Edges of Art and Science, an initiative to gather and exhibit beautiful images and visualizations created during scientific research by faculty, staff, and students. They hope to encourage all of us to look closely, think carefully, and engage more deeply with the world around us. Below is an excerpt of the works collected this past academic year. Editors at Art and Science asked creators what it meant to see their work as artistically beautiful.

Total Eclipse of the Sun, Gabon, 2013

total eclipseImage created by Jay Pasachoff, Astronomy professor; Allen Davis ’14, Astronomy major (now a graduate student at Yale studying astronomy); Vojtech Rusin, Astronomical Institute, Slovakian Academy of Sciences; and Miloslav Druckmüller, Technical University of Brno, Czech Republic (2013, composite image from a few dozen individual images of different exposures)

This image illuminates the solar corona and the reddish solar chromosphere and prominences recorded at the total solar eclipse of the Sun observed from Gabon by Professor Jay Pasachoff’s team in 2013. The shape of the coronal streamers is governed by the solar magnetic field. The diameter of the solar disk—the base of the corona—that we see as the silhouette of the Moon is a million miles across.

“I think of the images we get of eclipses as very beautiful.  In fact, I have been working with an art historian on a set of artistic images of astronomical objects since she came to Williams to lecture, invited by Prof. Samuel Edgerton, when Halley’s Comet went by in 1985-6.  We have since done a book about comets in art.

We scientists treasure ideas and images we find beautiful–whether they are mathematical ideas, astrophysical models, or eclipse or Hubble images. We sometimes put together images for the public with their artistic beauty in mind, making choices of contrasts, false colors, and so on.”

-Jay Pasachoff


CrystallitesImage created by Nell Davis ’15, Geosciences major, and Bud Wobus, Geosciences professor (Thesis advisor) (2015, light microscope)

This image shows plagioclase crystallites forming from some of the synthetic basalt produced at the Syracuse Lava Project during the summer of 2014. To create the synthetic basalt, the creators poured hot lava out of a mixer onto a sand bed where it cooled, bubbled, and created crystals like the ones shown here. The research focused on the relationship between lava and wet environments, comparing the synthetic lava with natural formations in Iceland.

“I don’t think of all of my research as beautiful, but I do have an Art History major on top of the Geosciences one, so I think I often look at things in nature or science from an art perspective.  I have always loved thin sections for the range of colours and designs they contain; I did think the plagioclase was particularly pretty (Bud and I called them sunflowers).

I think there often is art in science.  Nature is clearly full of art, from fractals to quality of light and shadows to sounds and textures.”

-Nell Davis

Flower Bits from Herb Robert

flower bitsImage created by Nancy Piatczyc, Electron Microscopy Technician at the Bronfman Science Center (2007, FEI Quanta 400 scanning electron microscope, colorized in Adobe Photoshop)

This image captures a microscopic view of the pollen and stigma from the flower Geranium robertianum.

“I do think there is art in science. Such amazing symmetry and design, much of it done by nature on a microscopic scale – just a wonder.”

-Nancy Piatcyc

Looking Down a Capillary

Looking Down a CapillaryImage created by Esmeralda Navarro, Biology major (2015, Scanning Electron Microscope)

This image shows an intensely magnified piece of mouse lung that was cross sectioned, fixed, and dried.

Sexy circa 740 Ma

Sexy circa 740 MaImage created by Spencer Irvine ’16, Geosciences major, and Phoebe Cohen, Geosciences professor (2015, three photographs of different microfossil specimen were acquired by photographing thin sections of rocks containing these fossils)

This image depicts close-up photographs of vase-shaped microfossils (VSM’s) in petrographic thin section. VSM’s are interpreted as the remains of testate amoebae, some of the earliest eukaryotic life forms on the planet. These specimens, from the Yukon, are roughly 740 Ma and range in size from 30-100 microns long. This image captures the morphological variation that existed within VSM assemblages, as vase-shaped, hexagonal, and ovular forms are all visible. By analyzing these specimens and comparing their morphological characteristics to other VSM assemblages around the world, we can identify which species are present here, and also determine whether there are new taxa.

“Before submitting an image to On the Edges of Art and Science I viewed my work and the images it produced simply as data. If someone just drew the outlines of the fossils for me on a piece of paper, I don’t think think I would call them beautiful. But if you explained to me that they were fossils of organisms that lived over 700 million years ago I would find it a lot easier to appreciate them. I think a big part of appreciating something’s beauty is contextualizing it, and I guess that’s where research comes in.”

-Spencer Irvine

Preliminary in vitro Hepatic Vasculature

vasculatureImage created by Jacob Verter, Biology major, and Masaki Kawamata, Stem Cell Research Program, Boston Children’s Hospital (2015, light microscope at 10x resolution)

The liver is comprised mainly of biliary cells, which make up the ducts running through the organ, and hepatocytes, which are the functional units of the liver. Hepatocytes have not yet been able to be cultured in vitro. The aim of this research was to turn human biliary cells, which have some stem cell-like properties, into hepatocytes. This picture was taken before this transformation began, and the bright, curving structures are the tiny beginnings of the vessels that would carry fluids throughout the liver. Except they’re growing in a petri dish.


-Alexandra Griffin and Jeffrey Rubel

See more work from On the Edges of Art and Science here.