Explore Utah Science - Explore Utah Science - Science Art and Community http://www.exploreutahscience.org Tue, 23 Jan 2018 08:48:27 -0700 en-gb When Art and Science Intertwine http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-art-and-community/item/117-pictures-to-see-the-unseen http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-art-and-community/item/117-pictures-to-see-the-unseen When Art and Science Intertwine

Turning complex data into works of art has become essential for communicating and understanding science.

Turning complex data into works of art has become essential for communicating and understanding science.

The collection of images appears to be a study in shape, color, and design. Zig-zagging lines that meld into smoke-like ribbons; an explosion of colors that seemingly blasts beyond the frame; a brain washed in pastels (see Image Gallery below). What at first glance looks like art is actually much more. Each piece is a window into scientific discovery.

The collection comes from the Scientific Computing and Imaging (SCI) Institute at the University of Utah, a group of computer scientists that specializes in making visually oriented simulations and interactive software. They collaborate with researchers in fields ranging from astrophysics to the health sciences, to find new ways to gather and make sense of their data.

“Half of our brain is used for image processing, and visual processing is the fastest of our senses,” says Chris Johnson, director of the SCI Institute. “Visualization is a good way for us to interface with all that data.”

Though visualizing data may sound highly technical, it has real world applications. Johnson shows an image of a brain with a tumor, reconstructed from datasets that come from CT scans. One side of the tumor has a clear boundary that delineates where a surgeon should cut to remove it. The other side is fuzzy; it’s not clear where that side of the tumor ends.

Johnson then overlays a graphic, generated from algorithms used to find the edges of the tumor. On the fuzzy side, lines demarcate the closest and furthest points where that boundary might be.

“If this is your brain, where do you tell the surgeon to cut? Be aggressive? Maybe keep a little more brain. How about just take the mean,” he says. The simple act of looking at a single picture arms physicians and patients with knowledge to make an informed decision.

That is the purpose of scientific visualizations, to clearly communicate data so that others may understand and better use the information behind it.

With a growing appreciation for the impact that thoughtfully made visuals can have, more researchers are integrating art into their science.

Nathan Galli, a classically trained artist with no formal science education, was hired by the SCI Institute thirteen years ago. He says he was the first artist to become part of a research team at the university. “When I was hired it was not very well received … Now everybody has one,” he says. Galli lends an artistic eye to scientists’ presentations and visualizations.

Galli’s artistic skill has also enabled scientists to glean more from research. One of his projects was to add design elements to the interactive software, EpiCanvas, made for tracking disease outbreaks. His recommendations to simplify the interface, and add maps, graphics and other features, made EpiCanvas not only better to look at, but also easier for epidemiologists to use and understand. Published last year, the software has already won awards and piqued the interest of the Center for Disease Control.

Janet Iwasa thinks that giving researchers themselves the ability to make art will help them become better scientists. A new member of the research faculty in the department of biochemistry at the University of Utah, she is a scientist who uses artistic techniques. Her lively animated movies of biological processes depict scenes such as colorful proteins doing their jobs within cells (see video above). She is leading a team in creating intuitive animation software called Molecular Flipbook that promises to turn scientists into animators after a brief tutorial.

“Animations are a means of being able to communicate hypotheses as well as explore them in a way that I think scientists need to do.” She says the process of making animations can help scientists crystallize their hypotheses.

The idea stems from her observations that being forced to visualize in detail the various biological steps she is animating, reveals gaps in knowledge. “At that point there’s a lot of insight or understanding into what people know and don’t know,” she says. “Often that itself is enough to get new ideas rolling.”

The art world has started to take notice of the stunning visuals that come out of science. The SCI Institute put their images on exhibit, including at a show at the Kimball Art Center in Park City. Iwasa’s movies have been on display at The Leonardo art and science museum in Salt Lake City, and other venues.

“It’s a friendlier way of making people think about proteins in a molecular scale, in an environment that’s not as intimidating as a classroom,” says Iwasa.

Artistry opens the door for anyone to appreciate the science behind the pictures.

{gallery}SCI images:500:333:0:2{/gallery}

julie@exploreutahscience.org (Julie Kiefer) Science Art and Community Mon, 06 May 2013 00:00:00 -0600
Molding Creatures Out of Clay http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-art-and-community/item/103-molding-creatures-out-of-clay http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-art-and-community/item/103-molding-creatures-out-of-clay Molding Creatures Out of Clay

A fascination with aquatic creatures led Utah artist William James to fuse ceramics with cephalopods.

A strange looking body moves along the ocean floor, propelled by eight flowing arms, gracefully reaching and grabbing. This is an image that fascinates William James.

"Squids and Octopi are amazing creatures. They're so intelligent, their body structure is so foreign. They have these layers of skins with the chromatophores, the leucophores, and the iridophores," says James. These masters of disguise blend into their surroundings by controlling the size, color, and intensity of these different types of pigment cells. "And then I found out that their arms contain about a third of their neurons, and they are so expressive. That's the part I like in the sculptural pottery, the expression in the tentacles themselves."

He captures that expressivity by combining functional pottery with nature—creating a vase that's a squid. The tentacles, as if in motion, are captured in clay as they cascade down towards the vases' base.

It's clear that James' art is inspired by science, and that hints at his background. Rather than being an artist his entire life like many people that choose it as a profession, he says he stopped doing art after grade school. Instead, his chosen field was engineering. "My degrees are in physics and material science and engineering. I worked for a company designing test equipment for rocket motors and building weird electronic testing equipment for radiation environments," says James.

He retired from that field when he and his wife moved to Utah from California twenty-one years ago. His interest in art was ignited about seven years ago.

"I was volunteering at my son's grade school," says James. He would teach the class about a certain artists and then direct them through a project. "I just kept coming across some of the same ideas in art that I had come across in engineering and science. You experiment, you try something, and see if it works," he adds. "There seemed not to be as big of a separation between science and art as I had always thought there was."

With a newfound interest in art, he took a ceramics class as a 20th Anniversary present from his wife and never looked back. His first professional series, inspired by fossil hunting trips, launched a recurring aquatic theme in his works. Vases and platters were encrusted with ancient creatures. "I did a set of fossils in Utah, mostly trilobites and ammonites, and those relate to when Utah was an aquatic environment."

While primarily driven by an intense interest in his subjects, James' unique ceramic art has found success in recent shows. One of his squid jars won a Best in Show award for ceramics at last year's Utah State Fair and an octopus jar took first place in its category.

Now, James is incorporating other interests into his artwork. In his studio, the standard pottery wheel and kiln sits next to a 3D printer, a Computer Numerical Control machine, and a welder.

"I've been working on touch sensors and proximity sensors and various ultrasonic distance sensing, light sensing. Those haven't made it into anything yet," he says.

But they will. James says in his first project he will use sensors in a Jellyfish lamp that will change LED light colors in a specific pattern. No doubt after that he will keep pushing his art in new directions, fusing his love of science with ceramics.

James and fifteen other clay artists in Utah are displaying their work in a show called Biomimicry: Innovations Inspired by Nature, at the Art Access Gallery. The show is curated by Heidi Moller Somsen and runs from March 15 – April 12.

William James

William James

Other artwork at Biomimicry: Innovations Inspired by Nature


Dan Vu

Suzanne Conine

kim@exploreutahscience.org (Kim Schuske) Science Art and Community Wed, 20 Mar 2013 20:09:55 -0600
A Virtual Field Trip to the Hylozoic Veil http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-art-and-community/item/78-the-hylozoic-veil http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-art-and-community/item/78-the-hylozoic-veil A Virtual Field Trip to the Hylozoic Veil

WATCH THE VIDEO Part robot, part prototype life-form, part kinetic sculpture, the Hylozoic Veil at The Leonardo Museum captures the imagination and raises the question, "What is life?".

Come on a Virtual Field Trip to see the Hylozoic Veil at The Leonardo Museum in Salt Lake City, a fantastical kinetic sculpture by artist and architect Philip Beesley. Hanging from the ceiling, the three-floor installation cleverly employs robotics, sensors, diffusion, and geometry to make it seem life-like. Learn how the Hylozoic Veil explores the boundaries between biology and technology.


docfilms@gmail.com (Matt Black Creative and Explore Utah Science) Science Art and Community Thu, 24 Jan 2013 00:00:00 -0700
Seeing Math: Transforming Mathematical Equations into Art http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-art-and-community/item/75-seeing-math-transforming-mathematical-equations-into-art http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-art-and-community/item/75-seeing-math-transforming-mathematical-equations-into-art Seeing Math: Transforming Mathematical Equations into Art

A research scientist’s psychedelic art reveal solutions to technological puzzles.

Technology is intricately intertwined into our daily lives, and yet most of us barely grasp the concepts that underlie the electronic devices that we have come to rely on. Underneath the plastic casing of our cell phones, computers and TVs are layers of complicated math and physics that direct the inner workings of our gadgets.

James Nagel, Ph.D., a research scientist at Terahertz Device Corporation based in Salt Lake City, was not content with taking gadgets for granted. As an undergraduate at Brigham Young University, he wondered how deceptively mundane materials, such as ceramics, plastics, and metals, convert electrical signals into images and sounds. His curiosity eventually led him to electromagnetism, which governs the forces between electrically charged particles. For example, when current flows through a wire, it generates a magnetic field, creating something new that combines properties of both magnetic and electric fields.

During the course of his investigations as a graduate student at the University of Utah, Nagel began to literally illustrate mathematical equations that govern the cryptic theories of electromagnetism. Creating the images helped Nagel and others to understand math through visualization. “It’s very easy to write down an equation but it’s very difficult to picture what that means at the end of the day,” he says. However, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to observe that the brightly colored images express an aesthetically pleasing mathematical solution.

Take the case of the image Two Right Circular Rods of Opposite Charge, which resembles two blue eyes bulging through a red and yellow mask. It depicts a dipole, electrical fields distributed between positively and negatively charged poles, which in this image look like dark pupils within the “eyes”. The cool-colored electric fields that make up the steely blue eyes are weaker than those represented by the hot colors immediately surrounding them. Arrows, demonstrating directions of electric fields, erupt from the dark blue negatively charged “pupil” and terminate in the positively charged one.

“Human beings are very visual by nature and if you can visualize something, you have a lot more intuitive grasp then you would just reading it on paper,” says Nagel.

Originally devised as a teaching tool, today he uses his mathematical artwork to visualize answers to technological puzzles for his job as a research scientist. Nagel’s most recent abstract conglomeration of blue, red, and green hues will improve the efficiency of infra-red light sources, used in devices such as night vision goggles. The image is a visual representation of a calculation that allows the maximal amount of light to be used for its purpose, in this case seeing at night, rather than much of it being wasted as light scattered throughout the inside of the device. The mathematical information will guide engineers in manipulating surfaces to maximize light extraction.

“What I’m trying to do is really capture a very complicated mathematical story into one little image,” says Nagel. Nagel’s colorful orbs, waves, and ripples are arresting in their own right, but perhaps what is most striking is that it has practical applications for our increasingly technological world.

The Hertzian Electric Dipole






 Surface Plasmon Polariton





 Beam Forming by a Six-Element Dipole Array






Images (James Nagel):

The Hertzian Electric Dipole

Surface Plasmon Polariton

Beam Forming by a Six-Element Dipole Array




jhansen@genetics.utah.edu (Jody Hansen) Science Art and Community Thu, 03 Jan 2013 00:00:00 -0700
Natural History Museum Spotlights Plight Facing Utah Frogs http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-art-and-community/item/62-natural-history-museum-spotlights-plight-facing-utah-frogs http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-art-and-community/item/62-natural-history-museum-spotlights-plight-facing-utah-frogs Natural History Museum Spotlights Plight Facing Utah Frogs

Globally frogs and toads may be facing a mass extinction. At the Natural History Museum, scientists explained what they're doing to save local populations.

"Come on in, we're talking frogs here!" says state biologist Paula Trater. The most dressed up you'll ever see her, she is wearing dark green rubber waders, khaki hiking pants, and a colorful frog patterned shirt. Trater's most distinctive feature, however, is that she is passionate about frogs.

Trater shared her love of frogs at the 77th Scientist in the Spotlight at the Natural History Museum of Utah. This bimonthly series features scientists from around the state in an open house format, creating a "unique opportunity to get face-to-face with a scientist," says gallery programs coordinator Paul Michael Maxfield.

Trater taught visitors how to sneak up on, catch, weigh, measure, and track frogs over multiple years. Besides getting their hands dirty, the work challenged visitors to think about how amphibians in Utah fit into the global picture.

By current estimates, more than 30% of amphibian species worldwide are threatened with extinction. With semipermeable skin that makes them highly sensitive to pollution, radiation, and diseases, they are among the first species in an ecosystem to react to climate change. Their demise doesn't bode well for everything else.

In some ways, the state of amphibians in Utah is a microcosm of their global plight. At one time or another, local frogs and toads also faced extinction. How these species are doing today signals how well humans are managing the changes that are happening to the natural world.

In the early 1990s, the state hired Trater to monitor the quickly declining Columbia spotted frog populations. Counting frogs by the number of egg masses, she tallied just a few hundred annually back then. Although each egg mass can contain up to 1,000 embryos, only about 5% of them make it to adulthood.

The primary contributor to the species' downfall was habitat destruction due to land development and use. Two major water projects, construction of the Jordanelle Dam and straightening of the Provo River, within the past 60 years had eliminated many of the marshy areas where the frogs lay their eggs. In 1997, the spotted frog was listed as a Utah Sensitive Species.

To restore wildlife habitats, the Provo River Restoration Project, initiated in 1999, re-created wetland areas by re-establishing the natural curves of the river. "If there was an established colony nearby, they [new frogs] would move right in," Trater says. The spotted frog population recovered, and Trater now counts upwards of a 1,000 egg masses annually.

But just as spotted frogs were gaining ground, a new threat came online. The Chytrid fungus, which had already devastated amphibian populations worldwide, was detected in Utah spotted frogs in 2001. Trater recalls that when she heard the news, "it was like hearing your whole family was going to die."

To her surprise, the dramatic decline she had been bracing for never came about. Trater suspects that spotted frogs are resistant to the disease. "We know the disease is there, but the frogs aren't dying," she explains. "Our frogs are rugged."

Unlike Columbia spotted frogs, boreal toads haven't been so lucky. Once prevalent in the Wasatch, they are now so scarce that Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) biologists rely on hikers to relay sighting information. Mark Grover with the DWR believes that Chytrid is the culprit, but says the fungus is "not the global boogyman that's responsible for everything."

Environmental stresses, some triggered by pollution or varying water years, may be increasing the susceptibility of boreal toads to the disease. Once scientists determine the root cause, Grover hopes they can design a recovery plan to stabilize the population. With each amphibian species as an environmental indicator, one can't help but wonder what the toads are telling us.

This realization struck a chord with Scientist in the Spotlight participant, Eugenia Richins of Salt Lake City. She says she has fond memories of catching frogs as a kid, but doesn't see many these days. With a new appreciation for the issues facing amphibians today, Richins views these populations as a "barometer of the climate of our world with pollution and global warming." Now motivated, she vows to volunteer to help save them.

Scientist in the Spotlight, featuring geneticists to paleontologists, is scheduled for the first and third Fridays at 2:00pm at the Natural History Museum of Utah, 301 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City. At the next event on December 7th, a zooarcheologist will demonstrate what animal remains reveal about climate change.

Kaitlin.Basham@hci.utah.edu (Katie Basham) Science Art and Community Thu, 29 Nov 2012 06:14:23 -0700
Painting the Diversity of Life http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-art-and-community/item/52-painting-the-diversity-of-life http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-art-and-community/item/52-painting-the-diversity-of-life Painting the Diversity of Life

Utah artist Carel Brest van Kempen brings animals to life, giving viewers an opportunity to explore unique and distant places.

Carel Brest Van Kempen paints graceful, realistic scenes of wildlife interacting with nature. In his detailed acrylic painting, Green Iguana with Leaf-Cutter Ants (2011), the viewer can make out each individual scale, and almost feel the texture of its skin. Accompanying each painting is a careful description of the animal and its habitat, a giveaway that the painting is more than an artistic exercise. He has a deep affection for wildlife.

His love for nature emerged from a childhood exploring the wilds of Emigration Canyon in the 1970s. "I grew up in a situation where I could as a little kid walk out my door... and go as far as I wanted and not run into anything except wilderness." He adds, "You never get tired of it and you never stop learning because the biology up there is constantly changing."

His experiences spurred him to major in biology in college, in hopes of one day becoming a zoologist, but he ended up dropping out. "The biology program wasn't quite what I had in mind, and I don't think I was quite what the biology department had in mind," he says.

After college he decided to pursue his second love, art, but that wasn't any easier. In the 1980s the Utah Arts Council sponsored Flights of Fancy, a juried art show for Utah artists that seemed a natural fit for his wildlife paintings. "I submitted my six best paintings and they were all rejected...and I wasn't treated unfairly," he recalls.

It wasn't until he was 29 years old that he hit his stride as an artist. His skills matured and the quality of his work improved considerably. "At that point I was getting pretty old...I was drawing caricatures for a living and really floundering, so it was really nice to see some light there," he says. "I spent my 30s working harder than I've ever worked in my life. That's all I did. I was completely focused on becoming a painter." It worked. Brest van Kempen is now one of fourteen Master Artists with the Society of Animal Artists, tours around the world, and has published a book of his work. His paintings sell for thousands of dollars.

Brest van Kempen tries to take a trip somewhere in the world once a year and draws inspiration from what he reads, sees, and from his imagination. An avid reader of ecology and zoology research, he relays that he recently read a paper about a symbiotic relationship between sunfish and albatrosses. The sunfish will seek out the birds so they will pick parasites off of them. "That might one day become a painting," he speculates. Much of his work tells little stories like this that he has invented, but are based on science. "Most of my painting are situations that I would like to see, but that I would never be able to see without creating it," he says.

Brest van Kempen paints animals that catch his fancy, whether they are endangered or not. While a conservationist, he says he doesn't kid himself that his painting will change anyone's mind, but rather he paints as a way to lose himself in the natural world that he so loves.

Carel Brest van Kempen's work is part of the permanent collection at the Springville Art Museum in Springville, UT and the Salt Lake County Art Collection in Salt Lake City.

Julie Kiefer contributed to this story.

Brest van Kempen website


kim@exploreutahscience.org (Kim Schuske) Science Art and Community Thu, 15 Nov 2012 06:12:43 -0700
Salt Lake Reconsidered--Photographer Diane Tuft http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-art-and-community/item/32-salt-lake-reconsidered-photographer-diane-tuft http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-art-and-community/item/32-salt-lake-reconsidered-photographer-diane-tuft Salt Lake Reconsidered--Photographer Diane Tuft

Photographer Diane Tuft's digital camera captures what the naked eye cannot: dramatic colors given off by combining ultraviolet light with the unique organisms living in the lake.


Diane Tuft was flying in a helicopter over the Great Salt Lake in 2005, on her way to photograph Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, "I looked down at the Salt Lake and thought, 'Oh my god, I've never seen anything more beautiful in my whole life.'" That was the beginning of Tuft's adventure to understand why the pictures she took with her digital camera on that trip were so brilliant in color, even more striking than what she saw with her own eyes.

At 4,200 feet, the elevation of the Great Salt Lake, the air is thin, allowing 15% more ultraviolet light to reach the ground than at sea level. This fact leads Tuft to believe that the intense colors in her pictures are because her digital camera captures more reflected UV light than a film based camera. "Many of my photographs were done simultaneously with film and as digital, and the digital photos were very different than the film camera's," she says.

"Ultraviolet light [at the Great Salt Lake] is enriched by altitude, wind, depth, pigment and salt. With her camera lens, Diane has found all of these," says Bonnie Baxter, professor of biology at Westminster College and Director of the Great Salt Lake Institute. She has been studying the effects of UV on the lake's ecology for more than a decade.

"When I first saw Diane's work, my impulse was, 'I want to sample there!' What I saw were the fantastic colors of the living part of Great Salt Lake," Baxter explains, "These are the microorganisms that I study. They have pigments that make them green or pink or red. I was seeing my science in her art."

Tuft's discovery of the interaction between UV light and the environment has sent her on a search to Iceland, Greenland, and New Zealand to see how UV light impacts her vision, and her photographs, of the world.

Diane Tuft's website



kim@exploreutahscience.org (Kim Schuske) Science Art and Community Mon, 22 Oct 2012 00:00:00 -0600
Utah Orangutans Paint to Raise Money http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-art-and-community/item/11-utah-orangutans-paint-to-raise-money http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-art-and-community/item/11-utah-orangutans-paint-to-raise-money Utah Orangutans Paint to Raise Money

Utah orangutans sell paintings to raise money for their relatives living in Borneo and Sumatra.

The four orangutans living in Hogle Zoo love to paint and now they are painting with a purpose—to raise money for their endangered relatives living in Borneo.

21 year old Talukun is a 285 pound gentle giant. His hand is more than twice as big when held up palm to palm to the hand of zookeeper Erin Jones.

Talukun, and the family group Elijah, Eve, and 5 year old Acara, made around thirty five paintings. Half of them are collaborations with local artists. Eddy Del Rio has been painting portraits for fifteen years. Although separated by bars, he and Elijah took turns creating a work of art.

“Wow! Truly rare. Awesome experience. I haven’t been through anything like that ever before,” says Del Rio. “You know when you see an orangutan through a glass window, you get a lot from them, but when you get to see them in person and it seems like they know that it’s different too.”

Del Rio started with the painting Elijah made and focused on capturing his eyes to create a portrait of the orangutan. He says eyes are key to a portrait, “you know they are so intelligent just to look at them. You see the intelligence in their eyes.”

About 50,000 orangutans live on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra in Indonesia. Zookeeper, Erin Jones says it’s estimated that 6,000 are killed every year. She says the main problem is palm oil plantations, which are created by clear cutting forests.

“When the orangutan’s need to travel to find food and things like that, they run into palm oil plantations,” says Jones. “The orangutans go into those plantations to eat food, and farmers treat them the way do pests in this country and try to eradicate them,” she adds.

Palm oil is used in cosmetics, cookies, candy, and is a main ingredient of biodiesel.

This story originally aired 7/9/10

The Orange-Utahn Art Show is a reccuring event at Hogle Zoo, visit their website.

kim@exploreutahscience.org (Kim Schuske) Science Art and Community Fri, 19 Oct 2012 00:00:00 -0600