Visualising Research

Visualising Research

Leonardo Da Vinci is perhaps the most well known “scientist” of the 15th and 16th century. What certainly helps his case is that he was also an artist and a painter, which transformed hard numbers and physics into a form which was intuitive and visually appealing. His painting of the Vitruvian man, for example, shows a perfect blend of mathematics and art. In this picture, Da Vinci used the description of the ideal proportions of a human body, given as hard numbers by the Roman architect Vitruvius in around 40 BC as the base to create the image.

The Vitruvian Man is an image created from the ideal human body proportions given by Vitruvius in text form.

Not only this, but throughout his life Da Vinci made and kept nice pictorial sketches of his inventions and studies, which greatly helped the advancement of science. There are many other examples from history, such as the Pyramids of Giza, or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, where civilisations mixed their achievements in engineering and arts to create true wonders.

The Pyramids of Giza

The hanging gardens of Babylon







Despite this, the worlds of science and art have grown into two opposing poles, as mentioned by the novelist and physical chemist, Charles Percy Snow in his well-known lecture at Cambridge in 1959. This brings to fore the problem of disseminating scientific knowledge. A 1985 paper by the Royal Society of London stresses on the gaps between the public and scientists, and the need to address it. As this 2013 article notes, Scientists assume a ‘two-arena’ model when talking about their research, one for internal communications and another for the general public. Their findings say that while scientists believe that informing the public brings positive changes in their attitudes towards science, they largely tend to exclude the public from the ‘internal communications’ arena. This communication gap perhaps leads to a drop in the public’s belief towards science, as presented in this episode of the Emmy award-winning show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

This gap between scientists and the public seems to be growing. One of the ways to close this gap is perhaps through the use of art, just like in Da Vinci’s sketches, or through other ancient efforts noted above, for knowledge must not only be accurate but also easily understandable, visually appealing and inspiring. While reading on the confluence of art and science, I came across this interesting group, ‘Materials Research Society‘, who promote the use of art in science, and have a gallery of stunning images of the winners of yesteryears. Most of these images are of microscopic stuff crafted carefully. I also came across independent artists, on the other end of the scientist-artist spectrum, who take scientific nuances and transform it into art. One of them is this, an image I will not paste here due to my lack of knowledge of copyright regulations, which depicts cosmic background radiation from the universe in the form of a traditional Indian artwork. Finally, there is this paper, in Nature Nanotechnology no less, which got me exploring into art, its presence and its absence from science.