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Amsterdam - 14, 15, 16 November 2002

The Art within the Scientific Data

Envisioning Science

Felice Frankel

Yes, they told me I wasn’t going to be able to see, I would love to see some faces.
John Burger did in fact write in ‘Ways of Seeing’ that we only see what we look at. To look is an active choice. My hope is that I’m going to turn you on and to start looking at science. I’m going to be showing you pictures of real science phenomena. It’s about the science that brings you the technology that you are absorbed with. Of course you should be absorbed with technology, but you should also be turned on to the science that beings you that technology. And I want you to just look at images, and that’s why the production people were kind enough to humour me and not photograph me. I’m not the important thing in this presentation. It is the images of science, science is about data and numbers and you are in fact looking at hard information. It may not appear as science, but it is.
(New Image NI) This image that I took a while ago is very much about complicated science, it’s about magnetism. You’re seeing something called fero fluid. Fero fluid is a glob, of oil, that has in it magnetite, so that when you put magnets near it, it acts like those feathery forms you get when you look at iron filings. These of pieces of magnetite are in oil, so when we put 7 circular magnets underneath we get this very interesting shape, and that is in fact about magnetism.
(NI) And this is about a very thin layer of gold that I took under a microscope and I submitted this to a journal and what we’re seeing here is the gold buckling, you’re getting certain patterns, because the polymer, the plastic that the gold is sitting upon has contracted, so you’re getting these wonderfully regular herring bone patterns, but those circles that you see, this was under a certain technique in microscopy . It emphasises surface structure, those circles are pieces of gold that were incorrectly deposited, so in fact it’s an error, but notice that where you’re seeing those circles you’re getting a different pattern of the buckling, it becomes more radial. We’re trying to figure out what that’s about.
(NI) You’re seeing scotch tape under a microscope. The scotch tape is on a substrate, is on something, and those fingers that you’re seeing, change depending upon the nature of the substrate. This is about sticking. And sticking is about adhesion and adhesion is about why cancer cells, when they mestatise to organs they stick to those organs. It is all connected it’s about visually representing very complicated ideas. Photographically, but we need you graphic designers, people who think visually, to be able to extract some very complicated notions, so that we can communicate to the public.
(NI) Nick Abbott did work in liquid crystals and I photographed it differently than Nick did. I like to think I made it more accessible. Although these are used for journal submissions, they are also very much a part of communicating to the public, I’m absolutely, boringly passionate about the idea that we’ve got to start communicating our work and research to the public.
(NI) A Morpho butterfly wing is about science. You’re not seeing blue dye, the Morpho butterfly does not have blue dye. But what you’re seeing in light responding to the surface of the Morpho butterfly wing. This was not for a journal submission, this is for the book ‘On the Surface of Things’ but my co-author, George Whitesize and I wanted to express very complicated phenomena pictorially and of course with words. None of what I do will work without working with writers and I invite that collaboration.
(NI) Opal. Opal is absolutely phenomenal stuff and what you’re seeing here is small glass balls which are embedded,
so you’re seeing light responding to those glass balls.
(NI) We’re looking at something called hydrophobic surface. Hydrophobic, water-fearing, so that when for example you wax your car and you go to get it washed, you see it beaded up. Well George and I talked about why that’s happening, because it’s a hydrophobic surface.
(NI) here you’re seeing something called self-assembly, which you’ll be seeing if you’ve not already heard about it. It’s so much about what life is about. Those are kisses of plastic about 4mm across. They are floating between 2 liquids at the interface of the liquid. This is in the laboratory. They are finding each other because of the nature of the chemistry of their size. It’s all about data, it’s all about hard information that I’m trying to describe to you visually. I’m absolutely convinced that the visual vocabulary in science is an extremely powerful tool and look at theses pictures, not just as eye candy, but look at it as real information. I’m not an artist. You have to believe me when I tell you that science is about information, but it’s also about the art that’s already there.
(NI) Here we’re seeing the mallian cells that are patterned on a surface and that’s happening because of the nature of the surface.
(NI) And here you’re looking at a mistake. It’s a piece of silicon that was incorrectly deposited with some material and there’s lots of cracking. There’s a lot of information I that cracking.
So in an interesting way, at least it became interesting to me and I was delighted to be invited I kind of realised that what I do for the most part is to encourage us to look at the abstraction of ideas. And in the book that I have the audacity to try to plug because I have a signing at lunchtime, I am trying to encourage researchers to abstract the essential pieces of their work.
(NI) Nick Abbott did this. This is not my picture. This is about a self-assembled mono-layer, it’s a surface, that he has created hydrophobic lines. Those are these lines that I’m showing you here. When water, which is what this is, is placed on the surface, it stops, because of the hydrophobic lines. That rectangle is about 4mm wide.
(NI) This is my picture of the same phenomena, this is what started me in this whole new world. I said look, (first let’s get the picture in focus). The other thing is, what do you say, you give me a grid, we’re going to say the same thing, we’re going to show the hydrophobic lines, but I’m going to plop on this surface coloured water instead. And what I’m doing is perhaps making a more interesting image, but at the same time, I’m bringing attention to important work and I’m also emphasising the chemistry, because those drops are not blending together. You couldn’t see that in Nick’s image. You can see that in mine, they literally have stopped and that’s what this science is about, which by the way on bringing on an incredible amount of technology. And that’s how it was used, and it was pure luck, this is at a George Whitesize lab.
I realise that there was a need for a photographer’s eye, who also happens to be passioned about science, to look at the different ways of imaging work.
So when Paul Kiners was looking at laminar flow, and this is his picture (NI) what you’re seeing are 2 channels that are 50 microns across, coming together in laminar flow that is they are maintaining the laminar aspects of their flow. And I said, ‘Let’s really get crazy. Give me a sample with 7 channels!’ And what we’re doing is once again, emphasising the fact that those 7 channels coming together in one large channel is maintaining the laminarity (I’m making that word up), of the flow and there is no turbulence going on and that’s what the chemistry is about.
(NI) When Mugi Buwendi is doing work in nano-crystals, I took this photograph of vials of nano-crystals, which contain the identical material, but the nano-crystals change in size, so you’re seeing a change in fluorescence, this is under UV light. I though I was being clever by photographing it from above and you can see the air bubble, a very nice compositional element. (NI) This is the picture that they preferred that I take. What am I going to do? Eventually they’ll come around, but in the end, this straight on shot is an abstraction of something highly complicated and in fact was data, data enough that it got on the cover of a magazine that never puts photographs and at the end , when this was all over I decided to play a little bit and by cropping it like crazy and making it even more abstract, the researchers saw a possible application of this. Not only will it be perhaps used as displays, but even for colour bars. A colour code bars. Again abstracting something down to the essential not only I think, communicates it better, but gets us to think perhaps of a larger effort and even an application.
In my former life I was an architect and landscape photographer and it was a great training ground for abstraction.
(NI) Isamana Gucci abstracted his landscape in this California scenario.
(NI) Fay Jones is an extraordinary architect who knows about abstraction. Look at the way he abstracts the pine code scale to create this wonderful piece so you don’t even know where the landscape begins and ends and when you really look carefully into the detail of his abstraction, look how he thinks about the surfaces of the pine code, but without literally translating it in a boring way. He just abstracts the bare essence of that texture into his columns. I think it’s brilliantly done.
(NI) John Rogers, this is Johns image that he took of his polymer that’s imprinted with circuitry. It’s a fine picture, it shows scale, shows flexibility. I abstracted it a bit more I think, perhaps engaging you into looking at it in a different way.
In our book, ‘On the Surface of Things’ I wanted to abstract the maringoni effect, the maringoni effect is when you twirl a glass of wine you see tears, it’s very complicated chemistry. (NI) I had a great time trying to figure it out. But I didn’t do a good job with this.
I think I did a better job with this. (NI) This is the tighter shot of this shadow of the maringoni effect. And George talks about what that is. It’s about growing 2 kinds of colonies in one picture to abstract the essence of the differences in the morphology. Here’s where I think I went too far (NI) and I’m in the picture, you’re seeing the light source. I don’t want you to pay attention to me, I don’t want to be the artist making a statement. I want you to look at the science.
And it is all about abstracting metaphor as well.
(NI) On your left you see the surface of a CD taken with electrons, those holes are so small that you actually cannot see them with photons, you have to use a scanning electron microscope. On the right I made a picture of a piano play-role to give you a sense of on off, on off, that’s how a CD works. It’s about communicating very complicated ideas visually with metaphor. And it is a bout a point of view. What kind of view should you take to communicate ideas.
(NI) These are bubbles. These are the identical bubbles taken from a different point of view.
(NI) These are calcite patterns that Joanne Isenburg is working on. Just different points of view under the microscope.
(NI) These are all images of one thing, it’s a micro device, and as I get tighter and tighter I recompose and I try to get the researchers to understand that composition is part of making a successful image. It’s very fascinating about the intricacies of fabrication in the engineering labs.
And I promise you that these 4 images are exactly the same sample, just switching the sample around, from different points of view.
As these are. These are all the identical sample from my book of a memory core, taken with different instrumentation, and this is ultimately an SEM is Scanning Electron Micrograph, coloured as you should know, it is in fact black and white.
So I also look at time. (NI) This is an image on an electrified jet taken with nano-strobe, that’s 10 to the minus 9th of a second. These holes are produced with ph/fento-second pulses. Fento, that’s 10 to the minus 15th of a second. I can’t imagine that. I need you people to help communicate those ideas.
(NI) These are a series of the Bella-Zaarger Betinsky reaction. These are still images. When I show them to you one at a time, this in not an animation, I’m just clicking away, this is about a larger picture, and in the end, after I only have one minute left I’m going to run through the idea of am I allowed to digitally enhance my pictures in science?
(NI) On the left you see jells, that is not what my eye saw. I saw what was on the right, because I didn’t have experience in what film to use, so I digitally coloured it.
(NI) When I took Jim Shapiro’s pictures of these incredible bacterial colonies, I didn’t like the cracks so I digitally removed it, am I allowed to do that? It’s a conversation we should have some day. When I digitally took these nano-wires, I coloured it, did I make it more attractive, more communicative? I’m not sure. Was I permitted to digitally tweak these images to make them more compelling? Did I go really far in embossing this image? Probably! But it’s about form, so maybe I’m allowed to do that if I want to tell you that the form is what you should look at.
(NI) And finally, when I took this amazing yeast colony picture in this petridish, I wanted you to look at this colony. These are cells speaking to each other, telling each other where to grow, so I wanted you to pay more attention to that. Was I allowed to do it?
Gerry Fink the scientist said that I deleted the information about scale. And he’s right. But it’s worth it.

John: This is a non-enhanced black line that you have to stand on Felice.
There’s about 25 discussions there that we could have, face in the direction of that light. There’s some things we can talk about more in the panel, but a couple of things that cropped up. You say that one of the questions is that you’re making things look beautiful. Does that encourage us to be critical about science, or does it encourage to admire it and say, ‘That looks really nice!’
Felice: I’m not making it look beautiful, I’m not being coy here. I don’t think I’m doing a incredible manipulation here. Science is beautiful. I know that beautiful is not a word that is popular these days, I’m in another generation from you. (laughter) Don’t be afraid of the beauty of this stuff. It’s there, I’m just editing it down so you can see it, I’m abstracting it more. But I think it’s about engaging the public to look at what I’m doing. By the way, every time I do manipulate, and we’re all manipulating aren’t we, just by framing, is a manipulation, I say so in the caption and that what removes me from the artist who doesn’t have to tell you what they’re doing, I always tell you what I’m doing.
John: There was a few indirect references to the scientists maybe not welcoming you or the light that you’re shining on their work. It’s a recurrent theme here. Architects, we drag them kicking and screaming into forms of representation that non-architects can understand. We’ve had the discussion about dashboards this morning, about data that can firstly, not lie, but secondly data and information that can encourage people to interact with it.
How can one interact with one of those images critically?
Felice: Well I have to tell you initially, you can imagine being on campus introducing myself to these people and asking, ‘Can I come to your lab?’ What does this woman want? But ultimately, they are beating my door down right now, because I am taking their baby pictures in a way and I am hungry to invite other people on campus to do the same, animation and all that. I think that by creating an image that allows accessibility to people who do not know science, who at least can start looking and asking questions. It is in the picture that enables us to ask questions, it’s a way of asking those questions, whether or not this is for real!
John: But they’re beating down your door because they want to be on the cover of Vanity Fair, or whatever science is called nowadays!
Felice: I am not embarrassed to say that I am selling science, I’m selling good science, I like to think that’s what’s going on in the labs of MIT, I’m a sales person and it’s just that I happen to be in love with what I’m selling. It’s OK with me.
John: But if that bacteria is going to kill you, should you not make it look a bit more scary?
Felice: That bacteria is not going to kill you. Actually that flower is yeast and it’s all over the place.
John: So it’s going to make you fat, which is the same thing.
Felice: But aren’t you interested in why those patterns are growing? I’m fascinated, they don’t know what the hell’s going on, I don’t know what’s going on but surely they’re asking and I think that’s kind of fun.
John: I’m fascinated, but I want to know what I should do about it.
Felice: Well you can’t figure that out until you first figure out the basic questions, ‘What am I looking at?’ And then you can start asking the deeper questions, I want to get you to start asking questions in an intelligent way (lots of laughter) and if I can do that….
John: we’ll continue this over the wine tonight and I’m very fascinated by the maringoni effect, which is a l about crying into your wine as far as I can see. Felice, we’ll see you later.

updated Monday 31 March 2003
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