As I wrote last week:
Something a little different for this week. Mother Nature Network put out an email earlier in January that opened, thus:
Dear friend of Mother Nature, We all see the beauty in a sunset or in a gorgeous painting, but can you appreciate the art in bacteria, climate images or preserved animal remains? These beautiful examples show how for centuries, art and science have danced a well-choreographed routine. The result has been some breathtaking creativity.
The pictures were so wonderful that I have offered the first six for today and the balance in a week’s time.
So without further ado, here is the balance of those paintings.
Leonardo da Vinci
As if he wasn’t busy enough, Italian painter, architect, engineer, sculptor and inventor Leonardo da Vinci was also fascinated with anatomy. He was so intrigued by the human body that by the end of his life da Vinci claimed he had dissected more than 30 corpses. He filled pages and pages with incredibly detailed drawings of body parts, accompanied by thousands of explanatory notes. U.K. heart surgeon Frances Wells, author of “The Heart of Leonardo,” recalled seeing da Vinci’s drawings for the first time as a medical student, “I remember thinking that they were far better than anything we had in modern textbooks of anatomy,” he said. “They were beautiful, accurate, absorbing – and there was a liveliness to them that you just don’t find in modern anatomical drawings.”
Earth as art
The Earth looks pretty darn cool from way, way up in the sky. Technically, NASA’s Landsat series of Earth observation satellites are critical for understanding scientific issues related to land use and natural resources. But really, they take some pretty remarkable images of mountains, valleys, islands and just general patterns in the forests and grasslands. Showing off this natural artistic sensibility, the U.S. Geological Survey created a series of “Earth as Art” images that are absolutely gorgeous. (And if you’re a fan, don’t miss NASA’s global maps, which are mesmerizing.)
Marco Tedesco, associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at City College of New York, sees the beauty in climate science. Coastal flooding. Cloud cover. Melting ice. To make climate work more attractive to the less weather-obsessed, he gathered colleagues from his school’s music, graphic design and video game design departments. The project, called Polarseeds, resulted in a multimedia art exhibit featuring photography, music and video, all centered on the beauty in climate science. Data on Greenland’s melting ice was transformed into music and the gallery featured photos of cracking ice.
Centuries ago, botanical drawings were key to helping people keep records of plants that had healing properties. The incredibly detailed illustrations of herbs and other plants were designed so that botanists and doctors could recognize the species for medicinal purposes. The oldest surviving example of botanical art, the Codex Vindebonensis, dates back to 512 A.D. The illustrations became more detailed and accurate as the centuries unfolded and now have taken on an artistic rather than medical purpose. There has been a recent resurgence in the art form through groups such as the American Society of Botanical Artists.
Preserved animal art
Japanese artist Iori Tomita sees beauty in death. He blends chemistry and art as he explores the natural beauty of the skeletal system in sea life. In his series “New World Transparent Specimens,” Tomita chemically bleaches and then dyes preserved animal bodies of fish, turtles, seahorses and other creatures. A chemical mix breaks down the protein and muscle, but leaves the collagen so the bodies keep their forms. Dyes then color the bones and tendons of the specimens, which are preserved in brightly lit glycerin.
Mercury thiocyanate is an inorganic chemical compound that makes for some pretty dramatic moving art when it’s ignited. In the science world, mercury thiocyanate (typically present as a white powder) has several uses in chemical synthesis, but its real claim to fame is in pyrotechnics. When it’s lit, the compound produces a long spiraling column of ash and smoke that looks like a moving snake. These used to be sold in firework stores, but now you’re only likely to see them in a chemistry class because of claims of toxicity. The modern version is a nontoxic “black snake” that makes a less spectacular — albeit safer — presentation.
Back to wonderful photographs next Sunday.