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Jan 24, 2014



We've blogged about feature documentaries about science and art, and more recently about experimental sciart docs. In the spirit of the quick-fix, on-the-go need for science, we decided this time we’d explore the many mini-docs about science on the web. There are literally thousands if not millions of science videos available online, and not all of them are dry educational explanations. Most involve demonstrations, illustrations, and fun new ways of thinking about bits of science like the periodic table.

Periodic table by Armtuk, from Wiki Commons

Lots of people have YouTube channels, with subscription services offered for their frequently updated science videos. Smarter Every Day has a video explaining the physics of how cats manage to land on their feet (particularly interesting and poignant for me, since my cat fell four stories and survived!). Other channels include: Minute Physics; Vi Hart’s channel, which includes math doodling videos explaining how to draw fractals and infinite series; SciShow and AsapSCIENCE; Numberphile, Deep Sky Videos and Sixty Symbols; Veritasium; The PBS Idea Channel; and VSauce.

NASA has a great video series, PBS and the Public Library of Science have Science Bytes, and Stephen Palumbi’s lab at Stanford has a collection of microdocs on sustainability and coral reefs. Science Daily covers the latest videos, and Story Collider and Khan Academy have archives of their lectures and events.

Then there are videos which have won competitions, awards, and funding from certain groups, which are not serialised like the videos above. Collections of these videos include Planet SciCast, Sloan Science and Film, the WellCome Trust’s YouTube channel, the HHMI short films site, and the International Film Festival at CERN’s site.

Seriously, whatever you’re looking for, you can find it. Expand your horizons! Bend your mind!

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TOP OF PAGE: Screenshot from Vi Hart’s Video “What is Up with Noises?” shown below. 

CommentsCategories DocFilm SciComm Science

Oct 16, 2013



Last month, Nerd Nite Boston gathered Boston’s nerds to hear some stories inspired by art, science, technology, lightning, and dystopic visions of invasive social networks. At the Middlesex Lounge in Cambridge, with nerds crowded around low tables, it appeared the husband and wife duo, Alberta Chu and Murray Robinson, were presenting to a group of eager kindergarteners, all of whom wanted to grow up to be scientists (though in reality, most of the audience probably already had). In case you missed it, here are some highlights:

Alberta started by explaining how she has forged her career in science and documentaries, showing us some great clips from her broad body of work. This included a clip of Samuel L Jackson narrating a doc on Industrial Light and Magic’s development of special effects for the Star Wars films. The clip went down pretty well, with audience respondents chanting Mr Jackson’s name and laughing at the corny, tongue-in-cheek intro. It also, of course, included some beautiful footage of massive sculptures on Gibbs’ Farm in New Zealand, which also gathered praise from the audience. The work on sci-fi shows and the engineering of big sculpture has allowed Alberta to have exciting premieres of her work and to build her expertise as a filmmaker, enabling her to pursue making films about the intersection of science and art.

The rest of Alberta’s talk featured several possible outcomes of science and art collaborations, like new science, new art, new technology, and public engagement. Alberta is fascinated with the kinds of hybrid science, art, and technologies that emerge from these collaborations, but places her own work in the final grouping, in that she creates art (films) which enable and/or enhance public engagement in science, art, and technology. Alberta’s slideshow reviewed the broad world history of science and art collaborations, including local heroes Doc Edgerton, Synergy Exhibits, Felice Frankel, as well as international technoartists and organizations: SymbioticA, Natalie Jeremijenko, Heather Dewey-Hagborg, the Exploratorium, and more. Ultimately, she argued, artists can help scientists address contemporary big issues, and can help bring science to the public in ways that make the science relevant and immediate.

Murray has been working on genes for nearly 30 years. He started out in the 1980s transferring lightning bug genes into mice to see what happened - resulting in glowing mice! Later, Murray met artist Eduardo Kac through Alberta, and his genetic work with mice inspired Kac’s later work in creating Alba, a glowing rabbit. The media maelstrom around this particular work and the process of genetic mutation seems to have died down considerably in the 13 years following Kac’s Alba, Murray argued, as glowing fish are now available as pets without any huge reaction. Over time, as the science has grown into shocking art and then into mainstream culture, the new technologies have been accepted and are no longer as shocking. Murray extended this pattern to hypothesize that the same would one day be true about public reaction toward the huge technological advance of genomics. The first human genome was sequenced less than 15 years ago, but the drop in cost for this process is phenomenal, and means that there is likely to be a sea change in how we understand ourselves in the next decade (at least). Companies like 23andme are giving consumers access to limited genetic information about themselves for as little as $99, and though the amount of data promised seems like a lot, it actually shows how little we really know about what genes are linked to. We know some things, like some diseases, some facial features, etc. Murray discusses two aspects of gene-linked traits: the controversial behavioral links, and the much less controversial idea of facial features linked to specific genes.

One of the reasons Murray became interested in genetics is because of his brother Kelly. Kelly is an enigmatic figure who is fascinated with electronics, funny, engaging, sleeps funny hours, and developmentally delayed. It wasn’t until 1998 that he was diagnosed with Smith-Magenis Syndrome, which was associated with the loss of one gene, RAI1. The diagnostic features of this gene-linked syndrome, however, included behavioral traits like a fascination with electronics. There are other genetically-linked syndromes with behavioral diagnostic elements. This is fascinating and highly controversial, given that electronics are such a recent and culturally contingent part of society, along with the nature vs nurture debates which rage among scientists and social scientists. Murray also provided two other syndromes which have associated behavioral traits. Aside from behavior, these genetic syndromes are also linked to characteristic facial features, which, again, is less controversial in terms of social narratives about genetics.

But given the huge amount of data flooding in, and the growing number of scientists and organizations working to begin interpreting that data, what will the future hold? When we do know more about our genetic data, how will we use it? Murray presented a few examples of capitalist/consumer-driven dystopian possibilities, and concluded that the issues and implications underlying this new explosion in genomics needs to be widely discussed and understood.

Both Alberta and Murray definitely agreed on a few key points - science needs to be talked about. The public needs to be in on the conversation. That’s the key importance of science and art collaboration and communication - to bring the science and the public together, to make science and technology accessible, interesting, and relevant to everyone.

Photo by Hargo

Thanks to Mary and Tim and all the folks at Middlesex Lounge! A huge thanks to all who attended! And here’s the #storify of Nerd Nite September capturing the social media around the event. Special thanks to Paul Ha, Hargo, Mark Zastrow, Snarky, Jarrett, Derya, Elena, DoreenAlex and Max for the social media love. 

-- Kat Hughes, Development Associate, ASKlabs

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CommentsCategories Art Boston DocFilm Events SciArt SciComm Science STEM to STEAM US

Jul 9, 2013



One thing that is so exciting about the intersection of science and art is the pervasive spirit of innovation and experimentation. Inspired in part by some of the work we saw in Synergy’s Ocean Stories exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Science (closed June 9 but coming soon to New York!) and the always amazing MIT museum, we thought we’d pull together some great experimental sciart short films available online and off. To be honest, when we’re talking about sciart shorts, the word “experimental” is pretty much implied. Whether the experiment is in the science or the art (or both!), here is a little taster of what’s out there.

Of course we have to start with Doc Edgerton’s films. We’ve mentioned them before, but they’re worth the repetition. If you haven’t yet, or you haven’t lately, check out MIT’s digital archive for some of Doc’s films, stills, and other experiments, as well as biographical information and more. Another early experimental sciart filmmaker was Jean Painleve. His work relied less on the popular techniques of sets, editing, and other manipulations of reality to create surreal films. He stated instead that nature itself is surreal, and he dedicated himself to capturing that on film. An online archive provides short snippets of a selection of his films, and a DVD collection is available either through the BFI or the Criterion Collection.

Much more recently, IBM released A Boy and His Atom, hailed the “world’s smallest movie” - and it must be. The stop-motion animation was created by literally moving atoms around one by one, capturing each shot through their scanning tunneling microscope. The results are pretty great, harking back to early video game graphics in their pixelated simplicity.

The Durance. Photo by Wolfgang Staudt

Audiovisual sciart creations have also been put to work for the science and communities they represent. A series of works called “Interlaced Waters” were made in the early 2000s to explore and teach about the Durance River’s ecosystem in France. Intended to help scientists research the ecosystem of the river, these films were compiled using the new (at the time) technology of DVD, as well as to educate the public and tourists about the region’s environment through exhibition, workshops, and lectures, ultimately working to help protect that environment from detrimental influence. Another more recent project, TheBlu, brings the oceans of the world to your desktop computer via thousands of artists and animators. According to their website, “TheBlu turns the Internet into a globally-connected 3D digital ocean, providing an immersive experience that is both fun and educational for all ages.” With connections at MIT, National Geographic, and the Animation Director of Avatar, this is one seriously exciting and massive sciart collaboration.

Screenshot of TheBlu taken June 6, 2013

Finally, 2011’s Subtle Technologies Festival, in Toronto, featured two curated sets of experimental sciart shorts. Dan Falk’s article pretty much sums it up (for those of us who couldn’t be there), but the programme is impressive and worth checking out, as is the work of the curators and contributors (like Stanza, Scott Arford, and Dmitry Gelfand & Evelina Domnitch).

With the growth of science festivals, science and art collaborations, and websites like YouTube, there are probably more avenues for experimental sciart shorts than ever before. Check them out - maybe they’ll inspire you to make your own!

PHOTO TOP OF PAGE: Inspired by Doc Edgerton. Commons

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CommentsCategories Art DocFilm Environment SciArt SciComm World Tags Sciart, Art, Science, Docfilm, Short Films, Olats, TheBlu, MIT, IBM, MIT Museum, BFI, Criterion Collection, Subtle Technologies, Synergy, Museum of Science, Science Festivals, YouTube, Archives, Collaborations, Doc Edgerton, Jean Painleve #sciart #docfilm #scicomm #science #STEMtoSTEAM #art #MIT #MITMuseum #Boston #collaboration #SubtleTechnologies #TheBlu #IBM #WorldsSmallestMovie #Oceans #Olats

Jun 10, 2013



Collaborations between artists and scientists are certainly not a new phenomenon, particularly when the aim is to make scientific data accessible or visual for a public - among other forms, scientific illustrations are a perfect example. Recently, however, resources aimed at developing art and science collaborations have expanded exponentially, from the STEM to STEAM movement and UCSC’s OpenLab, both aimed at bringing art and science together in educational environments, to Story Collider, which brings the art of storytelling together with scientists and science experiences, and Artisans Asylum, which provides space, resources, and education on craft and technology from crocheting to building robots. Other groups support and promote research projects and artwork, like the Australian Network for Art and Technology and the NYC-based Art Science Research Laboratory. Cynthia Pannucci’s Art/Science Collaborations Inc (ASCI) provides an online forum for people interested in science/art collaborations to post calls for work/projects, conferences, and meetups.

New to the scene, Richard Lowenberg’s Scientist Artist Research Collaboration (SARC), based in New Mexico, aims to bring together artists and scientists for somewhat structured collaborative explorations. Scientist/artist collaborators can take part in seminars, a commissioning program, a festival, or interactions through social media and publishing. A similar project, based locally at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and Oceans at MIT, Synergy produces science communication through its work. The results of their first collaborative project, the amazing Ocean Stories, is currently showing at the Boston Museum of Science. The project stretches beyond the museum, with the hopes of expanding the impact of the science and art. Synergy’s website includes short videos about each collaboration project, information about the artists and scientists, and links to articles and media coverage. Their new social media presence, too, is aimed at allowing them to network beyond their impressive local contacts, so that they can share the results of the fantastic collaborative art and science projects more broadly.

Watery Depths from collaboration between Bryan McFarlane and Jill McDermott.

For the scientists involved, taking part in the Ocean Stories collaborative project has meant that their research has now been communicated through the work itself in whole new ways and to brand new audiences. Not only do these projects take the research out of the lab and the field and into the museum, the gallery, the public space, but it also puts that research online through videos and articles on Synergy’s website, Facebook, and Twitter. Both scientists and artists benefit from these collaborations. Certainly participation in interdisciplinary projects helps scientists connect with the public, enabling them to disseminate their research through art, which can open up whole new channels of expression and interpretation. Artists, can learn about science and our world through these collaborations, and flex their communication skills in helping bring the research to their work.

The innovative modes of communication which result from art and science collaborations promise fascinating breakthroughs in scientific research, art and design, science communication, and public awareness and engagement with each of these fields. We can’t wait to see what comes next!

Photo Credit, TOP OF PAGE: Great Egret (Ardea alba) John James Audubon. From

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CommentsCategories Art Boston SciArt SciComm UK US World Tags Sciart, Boston, Art, Science, Collaboration, Ocean Stories, Synergy, Museum of Science, WHOI, STEM to STEAM, UCSC, OpenLab, Story Collider, Artisans Asylum, ANAT, SARC, ASCI, SciComm, Social Media, Art Science Research Laboratory #sciart #oceanstories #scicomm #science #STEMtoSTEAM #art #WHOI #MIT #MuseumofScience #Boston #collaboration

May 22, 2013



Experts only need apply: Reality TV Producers are seeking scientists with expertise in genetics, biology, zoology, primatology, and cave biology to appear on TV to voice their expert opinions on a new TV series in production. Cryptogenomics, anyone? Skeptics welcome. 

Multiple Emmy Award-winning Producer Jon Kroll, a longtime collaborator of ASKlabs, is looking for a few good scientists to guest on his new reality TV series, “Ten Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty.” SpikeTV and Lloyd’s of London are offering a $10 million reward for: "irrefutable evidence of the existence of a previously undiscovered non-human hominid native to North America and alive in the 21st century." The series aims to investigate both Bigfoot and the culture around the ongoing search for the mythical creature.

Also of interest are individuals with experience in biopsy darting, tracking and trapping, camera trapping, and entomology. The production has acquired a Qiagen DNA extraction kit for mobile use in the field. 

Shooting will take place very soon - from June 22 to July 21 in the Pacific Northwest, and 7 experts are needed for one week each during that time. Interested? Contact us ASAP. (** UPDATE 5/31/13 - Time is of the essence - get your info in ASAP to be considered for casting - CV, Headshot, and a letter would be good.)

We all know that Bigfoot only exists for *certain* folks, but we see this as a real opportunity for real scientists to debunk and put science on TV for international audiences! #scicomm #sciout

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CommentsCategories DocFilm SciComm Science



Long ago, I left the lab in order to “make science cool.” I forged my way into science communications, starting a science consulting agency to work with Hollywood screenwriters (where I consulted with sci-fi movie set decorators and screenwriters and producers such as Ed Solomon (X-Men) and Josh Brand, creator of “Northern Exposure”), and answering “ASK a scientist” questions for AOL and Earthlink in the early days of the internet. I got my big break when I was hired as a researcher on a TLC magazine show and worked my way up to producing science documentaries for TV networks such as Discovery, TLC, Sci-Fi Channel, National Geographic, and PBS. The world of science communication, especially online, has changed drastically since those times.

Admittedly late to the party (by a few years), I was struck by the ScienceOnline (#sciox) thunderbolt at this year’s #AAASmtg in Boston. I found myself among a highly-engaged group of people (aka Tweeps) using social media to communicate about science. Using conference-wide, topical, and panel specific hashtags (eg #AAASmtg, #sciart, #scicomm), attendees were able to broadcast what they learned, extend discussion, add links and sources, and network with each other beyond the physical conference space. Other users were then able to gather all that live-tweeting together into stories about particular panels on Storify, preserving the tweets and discussion for future reference; the linked story is just one of many examples from the conference. Wow! This really got us thinking about how science communication happens, how it benefits the science and the public, and what our role is here at ASKlabs.

After the excitement of the AAAS Meeting in February, especially around science, media, and communication, we helped to launch the inaugural activities of the fledgling ScienceOnline Boston chapter! (Twitter @sciobeantown or sign up for the Sciobeantown Google Group.) Our monthly Tweetups are a terrific way to meet area science communicators and journalists, science writers and bloggers.

Top: @Sciobeantown on Twitter. Below: #Sciobeantown April 2013 Tweetup at Za’s in Kendall Square (@biochembelle, @blattanzi, @easternblot, @haleybridger, @erinpodolak)

The communication tools available for scientists and science writers have multiplied exponentially, as have the potential audiences online. In fact, this Fall, MIT is hosting a special workshop called “The Evolving Culture of Science Engagement,” highlighting the kinds of changes occurring in science communication and, consequently, engagement. These changes mean more public access to science and to scientists! And hopefully, this will lead to a reversal of the shockingly low science literacy rates, which despite having tripled over the past two decades is only 28% among the US public (J. Raloff. Science News,  March 13, 2010; Vol.177 #6. p. 13.)

However, it seems that scientists themselves haven’t necessarily caught up with the technology or the possibilities of social media. Social media is a continually growing medium for communication, while print (newspapers, journals, and magazines) are on the decline. Evidence to support this can be found, among other places, the online open-access peer-reviewed journal PLOS Biology: “An Introduction to Social Media for Scientists.”

Science writers such as Christie Wilcox have called on scientists to focus on communication, and especially to learn how to use social media to spread the word about research. But more than just pointing out the need for and benefits of communicating to the public about science, these science writers have gone a step further and offered how-tos (from Jonathan Eisen), wikis (Christie Wilcox), workshops (Chris Mooney), and other resources to help scientists achieve social-media proficiency. There are even businesses like Compass Online which work to train scientists in social media and communication, and others like Science Sites that help scientists establish themselves online with websites and social media. Once established, scientists (as well as science writers already online, of course) can use metrics services like Impact Story or Orcid to figure out the kinds of audiences they’re reaching, and the kind of impact they’re making.

Obviously, there are a lot of scientists already using social media and communicating well. Those mentioned above are all scientists who blog, tweet, and generally engage in online science discussions. They are also helpfully encouraging other scientists to do the same. There are probably too many scientists online and science writers to name individually (for example, see the popularity of the Science Online annual conference!) but certainly Scicurious, Veronique Greenwood, and Virginia Hughes could be mentioned. Scientists who engage online, alongside science writers and bloggers, are amping up the level of scientific communication, particularly through social media.


L: Screenshot of SNFS Wiki; R: Oli Scarff/Getty Images from The Guardian “Are Scientists Normal People?” by Steve Caplan

Aside from social media, there are also academic articles and themed journal issues published on the benefits and strategies of social media communication for science and scientists. Among other important observations, these point out that, for NSF funded projects, “Broader Impacts” requirements might be met by social media engagement.

Communicating about science is not just good for scientists and their research (introducing them to new networks and conversations) it’s good for everyone. Indeed, a democracy strengthened by an informed technology-literate public is an asset to everyone’s future.

-- Alberta Chu
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May 7, 2013



Looking for a quick science fix while you peruse the web? Want a great source for up to date science-related news and opinion? We’ve got a few suggestions to get you started. From podcasts, videos, and blogs, to citizen science projects and games which allow you to compile important data, you’ll find something here that you love. So if you’re hunkering for a little science with your internet cat memes, start here and see what you can find!

First off, there’s the preeminent RadioLab. Their podcasts and shorts are available on their website, and their radio show is broadcast on public radio across the nation. The website also features blogs and videos. RadioLab covers all kinds of science-related stories, including local news (the cicadas are coming!) and philosophical debates on happiness and uncertainty. If you're a sucker for a great story check out the Story Collider website where new podcasts are posted weekly and regular live shows featuring scientists telling 8-10 minute stories occur regularly in NYC and Boston. If videos and podcasts are your thing, then definitely keep an eye on a new project called Science Studio (preview site just launched today, people!) from Rose Eveleth, Ben Lillie, Bora Zivkovic, which aims to provide a curated collection of 2012’s best science audio and video on the web. Anyone can nominate their favorite piece, which is then judged by a panel resulting in a multimedia collection that is a one-stop shop for great science content on the web. The project is funded by National Association of Science Writers and supporters on Kickstarter.


L: R: Photo credit Jurgen Freund

Another science video project called Minute Earth gives us short videos appropriate for that brief (but needed) distraction. Created by Henry Reich, with Alex Reich, Peter Reich, Rose Eveleth, Emily Elert, and John Guittar, with music by Nathaniel Schroeder. The videos are short, and informational, about the science of things that affect our daily lives like bed bugs and frozen foods, as well as answering common questions - why are leaves green? how tall are mountains? It looks like the site was only just born (only 7 or 8 videos so far) but the short format and basic but good content make this an easy one to keep on your radar. Though not science-centered, TedEd provides loads of educational/informational videos on a variety of topics, helpfully sorted by topic. Even more exciting - users can also remix/recut videos to create their own. Scientific American is another multi-faceted source for that science fix - it includes a huge array of blogs and news articles, videos and podcasts. Finally, the brand-new Nautilus already has some great articles and blog posts (topics change monthly) that you can check out.

If you’re looking for a science fix that encourages your own participation, then check out some citizen science games and projects - the best place to start is at Zooniverse, a citizen science portal which has loads of links and information about different projects. If you want something more specific, then check these out: Foldit is a fun and fascinating game that contributes to scientific research on protein folding. EyeWire, led by Sebastian Seung at MIT, helps scientists map the brain. Or if you want to peruse the data available so far on brain mapping, check out the Human Connectome Project. Galaxy Zoo is a citizen science game that helps map the galaxy based on observations from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Hubble Space Telescope, while Old Weather combines citizen scientists and weather archives to help build data on climate and climate change. Magic Cicada allows you to help scientists map 2013’s cicada emergence in the US Northeast by recording your own sightings. Finally, National Geographic’s Field Expedition: Mongolia lets you help archaeologists look for the tomb of Genghis Khan with the help of satellite imagery, to minimize unnecessary disturbance of the landscape.

There are, of course, also a plethora of groups and discussions on Google+, Facebook, and LinkedIn, which means you can network, read blogs, join debates and hangouts, and check out user-posted material. You can look through multiple telescopes, live (!) at the Virtual Star Party Googlehangout with astronomers explaining what you're seeing; the next one is scheduled for May 12th.

Did we miss your favorite? Please let us know via email.

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CommentsCategories SciComm Social Media Science May 2013 Tags radiolab, science studio, nautilus, @roseveleth, minute earth, citizen science, zooniverse, connectome, sebastian seung, galaxy zoo #scicomm, #sciox

Apr 23, 2013



Inspired by a recent discussion of great science documentaries on LinkedIn (initiated by Producer-Writer-Editor Bill Lattanzi also an Adjunct Professor in MIT's Science Writing program) ASKlabs creates a list of artistic science films that we either love or want to see. These films represent stories of science and art on film, both featuring and embodying feats of innovation, invention, and investigation. Among them are creative retellings using animations and associative imagery, alongside more established doc tropes like the use of archival footage and interviews. These films include artforms like animation, dance, poetry, painting, origami, and music. The films range from stories about controversial characters like Jacque Fresco and Joe Davis, to influential and renowned science-artists like Ernst Haeckel and Anna Campbell Bliss. Despite the wide array of subjects, a pattern that emerges from this group of films is their focus on the relationship between humans and the environment. 

Pushing the genre of science documentary filmmaking Death by Design (Peter Friedman, 1997) uses innovative techniques to help explore cell cycle: cellular life and death. Cell operations and functions, interactions, and contexts, and the interdependence of cells and organisms are intercut with archival footage of Busby Berkeley dancers. Moving from cellular function to the phenomena of the wider environment, Dutch Light (Pieter-Rim de Kroon, 2003) explores the myth of light in Holland. Has the peculiar Dutch light really impacted art and science over the centuries? What creates this effect?


L: The Dutch landscape

Also invested in creative and innovative form, the next few films also focus on “characters” of science and art. Hybrid (Monteith McCollum, 2000) is an example of a film about science, humans, and the environment, implementing archival 16mm footage, animation, and more classic interviews to piece together the story of filmmaker Monteith McCollum’s grandfather, Milford Beeghly. In the 1930s, Beeghly was one of the first American farmers to genetically enhance his crops, and the film follows the effects of his obsessive vision on both the agricultural world and Beeghly’s family. Proteus (David Lebrun, 2004) is David Lebrun’s fascinating voyage of discovery, exploring the work of scientist and artist Ernst Haeckel. The film uses innovative ways to portray Haeckel’s science-art vision, and its influence on biology as well as art, design, and politics of the 20th century. Future by Design (William Gazecki, 2006) is another film which focuses on a boundary-smashing figure, this time the more controversial Jacque Fresco. A “futurist,” Fresco is a prolific designer, inventor, and theorist. This film takes us inside the world of this unique character. All About Tesla: The Research (Michael Krause, 2007) looks in on the life, work, and legacy of one of our favorite scientists, Nikola Tesla. Director Michael Krause not only explores Tesla’s own work, but also finds contemporary researchers and fans to see how Tesla lives on today. Lumia (Meredith Finkelstein and Paul Vlachos, 2008) is the tale of another, less successful, inventor: Thomas Wilfred tried for decades to develop an instrument which could capture light and coax music from the rays. The film takes a look at the excitement and possibilities of the era through Wilfred’s inventions, as well as the bizarre and ambitious projects of his contemporaries, many of which failed. Heaven and Earth and Joe Davis (Peter Sasowsky, 2010) follows another controversial and often marginalized figure at the crossroads of art and science. Director Peter Sasowsky delves into the visions and struggles of Joe Davis, looking back at a strange and intriguing life as well as investigating the way science and art come together in Davis’ creations.

Less controversially, Me and Isaac Newton (Michael Apted, 1999) chooses scientists and researchers at the very top of their fields as its subject. Michael Apted side-steps their scientific accomplishments, however, and looks more closely at the personalities and lives behind the research. Arc of Light: A Portrait of Anna Campbell Bliss (Cid Collins Walker, 2012) also chooses a subject at the top of her field. Exploring Utah artist Bliss’s life and work, which combines design, architecture, mathematics, and technology, the film focuses especially on her time with Bauhaus mentors Gyorgy Kepes of MIT and Josef Albers of Black Mountain College in North Carolina.


Origami art  L:

The next two films bring together science and art in innovative ways. Between the Folds (Vanessa Gould, 2008) brings to the screen the story of artists and scientists (from MIT and NASA) who are dedicated to the art of origami. Burning Ice (Peter Gilbert and Adam Singer, 2010) depicts a journey along the coast of Greenland as artists and scientists come together on a ship. The scientists gather data on climate change, and the artists (of all varieties) learn from the scientists and try to interpret the data through their artworks. The film combines interviews and performances.



The final group of films also focuses on climate change and the environment. The Hollow Tree (Daniel J. Pierce, 2011) is the story of a community coming together with innovative engineering to save a beloved dead redwood in Vancouver. One of our favorite films ever, The City Dark (Ian Cheney, 2011) starts as an investigation about the loss of visibility of stars in urban life, which takes filmmaker Ian Cheney on a much bigger journey as he tries to get to the bottom of what living in perpetual light and light pollution really means. Finally, Symphony of the Soil (Deborah Koons, 2012) takes a creative approach to understanding the science, structure, and life of soil. The film also explores humans’ relationship with and impact on the soil, and our interdependence with the health of the soil.

We hope these films will inspire you to explore the world of science and art.

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CommentsCategories Art DocFilm Environment SciArt SciComm Science Tags #sciart #docfilm #artdoc #artscience Ian Cheney science art documentary film documentaries Bill Lattanzi, Peter Friedman, Death by Design, Dutch Light, Pieter-Rim de Kroon, Hybrid, Monteith McCollum, Proteus, David Lebrun Future by Design, William Gazecki, About Tesla: The Research, Michael Krause, Lumia, Meredith Finkelstein, Paul Vlachos, Heavaen and Earth and Joe Davis, Peter Sasowsky, Me and Isaac Newton, Michael Apted, Arc of Light: A Portrait of Anna Campbell Bliss, Cid Collins Walker, Origami, between the folds, Vanessa Gould, Burning Ice, Peter Gilbert, Adam Singer, The Hollow Tree, Daniel J. Pierce, The City Dark, Symphony of the Soil, Deborah Koons artful artistic artsy science documentaries

Apr 9, 2013



The Cambridge Science Festival 2013 is here at last! This is the sixth year of this innovative festival, which was the first of its kind in the US. Events take place all over Cambridge, with several events further afield, highlighting all the great venues and great science to be found in the Boston area. Follow the Festival on Twitter (@CSFtweets) for up-to-date info. Please consider making a donation to the Cambridge Science Festival here:

Of the 152 exhibits, events, and recurring programs ranging from the "Party for the Planet at Franklin Park Zoo" in celebration of Earth day, to the MIT Flea Market, the following events really jumped out at us: some #sciart, with a little innovation, storytelling, #scicomm, and education thrown in.

Friday, April 12

What: SoundScience Fun! @ The Museum of Science, ScienceLive Stage
When: April 12, 5:30pm - 6:15pm
Why: Learn about the science of sound through singing and demonstrations. Free!

What: The Edge of the Map @ Harvard University Science Center, Rm 302, 1 Oxford St., Cambridge
When: April 12, 8:00pm - 9:00pm (and again April 13, 2:00pm - 3:00pm & 5:00pm - 6:00pm & 8:00pm - 9:00pm, and April 14, 5:00pm - 6:00pm)
Why: A collaboration between Harvard biology students and theater-maker Calla Videt, this piece explores social issues and biology through genetics.

What: Operation Epsilon @ Central Square Theater, 450 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge
When: April 12-8:00pm - 10:00pm (and again April 13, 3:00pm - 5:00pm & 8:00pm - 10:00pm; April 14, 2:00pm - 4:00pm; April 17, 7:30pm - 9:30pm; April 18, 7:30pm - 9:30pm; April 19, 8:00pm - 10:00pm; April 20, 3:00pm - 5:00pm & 8:00pm - 10:00pm; April 21, 2:00pm - 4:00pm)
Why: This play is based on real transcripts which were secretly recorded during Hitler’s “Uranium Club’s” captivity in England. How close were the Nazis to an atomic bomb? What was really happening among these top scientists under Hitler?

Sunday, April 14

What: Artisan's Asylum Open House & DIY Festival @ Artisan's Asylum, 10 Tyler Street, Somerville
When: April 14, 1:00pm - 5:00pm
Why: Check out the Artisan’s Asylum - what they do, and what you could do too!

What: MIT Museum Art & Science Studio Showcase @ MIT Museum, 265 Mass Ave, Cambridge
When: April 14, 1:00pm - 4:00pm
Why: See awesome current projects from MIT students, staff, and researchers.

What: Visual-Eyes Art: The Visual Ecology Exhibit @ MassArt Student Life Gallery, Kennedy Bldg., 621 Huntington Ave., 2nd Floor, Boston
When: April 14-1:00pm - 4:00pm
Why: Anatomy, evolution, and art - MassArt students’ multi-media work on animal eyes.

What: Making Science Toys IV @ Beaver Brook Reservation, Waltham line, Waverley Oaks Road
When: April 14, 3:00pm - 5:30pm
Why: Aimed at kids, this course teaches how to make cool science toys - can adults come too?

What: H2Oratorio: A Deluge of Songs @ The Museum of Science, Cahners Theater
When: April 14, 5:00pm - 6:30pm (and again April 21, 2:00pm - 3:30pm)
Why: Songs about H20 with scientifically accurate lyrics? Sounds pretty good.

What: Hi-Fi-Sci: Music & Science Animation @ MIT Museum, 265 Mass Ave., Cambridge
When: April 14, 7:30pm - 10:00pm
Why: Composers and scientists come together for a presentation of musical interpretations of scientific visualizations. Science communication and art!

  L:, R:

Monday, April 15

What: Broader Impacts: How to Talk About Your Work with the Media @ MIT Building 34, Room 101 (50 Vassar St., Cambridge)
When: April 15, 2:00pm - 4:00pm
Why: Science in the media: what is the best way for scientists to get their work known?

Tuesday, April 16

What: Science & Poetry @ Cambridge Public Library, Lecture Hall, 449 Broadway, Cambridge
When: April 16, 6:00pm - 8:00pm
Why: Scientists, poets, writers, discussion: how can science and poetry work together?


Storytellers Seth Mnookin and Anna Wexler from the Collider!

What: The Story Collider @ Johnny D's, 17 Holland Street, Davis Square, Somerville
When: April 16, 7:30pm - 10:00pm
Why: Six people entertain with true stories about science.

Wednesday, April 17

What: A Science Author Salon with Emily Anthes author of Frankenstein's Cat @ ZuZu Bar, 474 Mass Ave., Central Square, Cambridge
When: April 17, 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Why: A talk about animal biotechnology from author Emily Anthes, co-presented by Nerd Nite Boston

Thursday, April 18

What: Science (Pub) Crawl, 3D Printing and Nature-Inspired Product Design Drop-in design workshops with Nervous System Design Studio @ Xylem, 287 3rd St., Kendall Sq. Free, 21+ cash bars 
When: April 18, 5:00pm-6:00pm
Why: What could be cooler?!?! Plus you're probably thirsty...

What: What Will it Take: Plugging the Leaky STEM Pipeline @ The Broad Institute Auditorium, 7 Cambridge Center, Kendall Square
When: April 18, 6:00pm - 8:00pm
Why: A roundtable discussion on problems and possible solutions for the cracks in STEM programming.

Friday, April 19

What: Making Movies, Making Science @ MIT Museum, 265 Mass Ave., Cambridge
When: April 19, 6:00pm - 8:00pm
Why: Short films by MIT students about science and technology, plus a Q&A

What: Trimpin: The Sound of Invention film screening and Q&A @ MIT Building 34, Room 101 (50 Vassar St., Cambridge)
When: April 19, 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Why: Screening of doc about innovative sound artist Trimpin, his creative process, and his amazing accomplishments. Q&A with Trimpin afterwards!

What: Rites of Passage by Quicksilver Dance @ MIT Simmons Hall(229 Vassar Street, Cambridge)
When: April 19, 8:00pm- 9:30pm (and again April 20 at 8:00pm- 9:30pm)
Why: Dance interpretations including the process of evolution and movements of early lifeforms.

Saturday, April 20

What: Science & Comics @ Cambridge Public Library, Lecture Hall, 449 Broadway, Cambridge
When: April 20, 2:00pm - 4:00pm
Why: Comic artists and scientists discuss the possibilities within their collaborations

What: Living in the Future: Pop Culture Meets Today's Technology @ MIT Museum, 265 Mass Ave., Cambridge
When: April 20, 6:30pm - 8:30pm
Why: Discussion and clips of futuristic films, and learn how close scientists are to those fantastic representations.

What: The Festival of Bad Ad-Hoc Hypotheses @ MIT 26-100
When: April 20, 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Why: Hilarious and improbable explanations of evolutionary theory given to a panel of judges.

Sunday, April 21

What: Art and Nature: Illustrating Urban Wildlife @ Danehy Park, 99 Sherman St., Cambridge
When: April 21, 1:00pm - 3:00pm
Why: Collect real specimens and learn to make art with natural inspiration from Cambridge wildlife.

What: Sci-Fi Radio Drama Double-Feature: LIVE! @ MIT Museum, 265 Mass Ave., Cambridge
When: April 21, 2:00pm - 4:30pm
Why: Experience science-fiction tales as they used to be on the radio, and then learn about some of the innovative sound techniques with effects artists!

What: Ocean Stories: A Synergy of Art and Science @ The Museum of Science
When: April 12-21, 9:00am-5:00pm
Why: See the experimental work resulting from collaborations between MIT and Woods Hole Oceaonographic Institution scientists and local artists. @sciart_synergy
Follow the exhibit on Twitter: @sciart_synergy and Facebook:

When you hit a Cambridge Science Fest (@CSFTweets) event be sure to post a photo or comment on Facebook or Twitter using #CambSciFest. We shall see you there!

Find ASKlabs on Twitter: @ASKlabsAlberta
"LIKE" ASKlabs on Facebook

CommentsCategories Art Boston DocFilm Environment Events SciArt SciComm Science Social Media STEM to STEAM Tags #cambscifest, cambridge science festival #sciart, #scicomm, #bostonarts, Boston events, MIT, MIT Museum, Boston Sciart, Museum of Science, Ocean Stories, Story Collider, Artisan's Asylum, Central Square Theater, Harvard, Cambridge Public LIbrary, The Broad Institute, STEM, Trimpin Seth Mnookin, Anna Wexler

Apr 2, 2013



ASKlabs relocated from LA to Boston ten years ago seeking the #sciart scene. Right away, we discovered the Boston Cyberarts Festival, the Decordova Museum, the ICA, the MIT Museum, the MIT List, MIT's Media Lab, and Arts Interactive. Lately we’ve noticed a groundswell of art and science happenings in the Boston area. With world-class scientific research and outstanding arts and cultural institutions in such proximity, it seems natural that the two would intersect, blend, even collide.

The Boston Cyberarts Festival was founded by George Fifield in 1999 with the goal of exposing public audiences to a wide range of digital and experimental media arts. The citywide biennial festival featured: new media art; music, dance, and theatrical performances; film and video; and lectures and panels. The last Cyberarts Festival was held in Spring 2011 but the organization is still very active. These days, Cyberarts produces exhibits, including Cycles, Tides and Seasons by Ben Houge, at the Harbor Island Pavilion on the Greenway Conservancy. The work opens with a reception on May 31st. Also coming up at the Cyberarts Gallery at the Green Street T station (Orange Line) is the Collision Collective’s Collision 19 show, for which they are still taking proposals. The show will run from June 14-July 27 of this year.

L: Adult Offerings at the Museum of Science. R: "Lightning Dreams" film premiere at the MOS wtih Greg Leyh, Lightning On Demand, SF; Daniel Davis, PhD, Museum of Science tesla coil expert, Alberta Chu, Filmmaker, ASKlabs; Lisa Monrose, MOS

Other events to check out include the excellent adult programs at Boston’s Museum of Science. In 2005 independent filmmaker/video artist Lisa Monrose stepped in as Program Manager of Lectures and Special Programs. She has been a driving force in science and art programs at the MOS and around town ever since. Upon arriving at the Museum of Science, she created the “When Science Meets Art” initiative featuring music performances with Evan Ziporyn and Christine Southworth, wearable technology fashion shows, a RadioLab Listening Party in the Planetarium, and lecture-exhibit-installations with artists such as Nathalie Miebach, Halsey Burgund, Alexis Rockman, Chris Jordan, and Anna Deavere Smith. In November 2012, ASKlabs was extremely pleased to have our world premiere of “Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm” (2011) chronicling the creation of the world’s largest kinetic lightning sculpture (and tesla coil) as part of this MOS “When Science Meets Art” series. The program featured high-voltage engineer Greg Leyh, of Lightning on Demand from San Francisco and MOS resident tesla coil expert Dr. Daniel Davis.

The MOS also collaborates with the Brookline, MA, Coolidge Corner Theater’s “Science on Screen” film series which launched in Fall 2005. For these events, a film with a science theme is accompanied by a scientist lecture. Films like “It Came From Beneath the Sea” are presented with University of Chicago biologist Michael LaBarbera; “12 Monkeys” is accompanied by a talk from notable science writer Carl Zimmer. This program, piloted in the Boston area, has now been awarded funds to expand nationwide.

In Fall of 2012 Catalyst Conversations (founded by artist, educator, and curator Deborah Davidson) started holding monthly events consisting of thoughtfully curated panel discussions featuring scientists and artists together. Events have included author Seth Mnookin and artists Brian Knep, David Small and Nathalie Miebach; a conversation between scientist and writer Alan Lightman and artist Felice Frankel; artist Janet Echelman and her computer-scientist collaborator Peter Boyer, video artist Sam Jury and science writer Eli Kintish. The latest event featured oceanographer and photographer Larry Pratt, and artistic director of Contrapose Dance, Courtney Peix, and biologist, science journalist and creator of the “Dance Your PhD” contest, John Bohannon.

Currently on view at the Museum of Science Art & Science Gallery is Ocean Voices: A Synergy of Art and Science at the Museum of Science. This exhibit is an experiment in art and science collaboration produced by Whitney Bernstein and Lizzie Kripke of Synergy. New England artists and scientists were paired in order to build upon each other’s ideas, approaches, and perspectives to open up new modes of communication and public engagement. These pairings provide us with innovative ways of understanding oceanography, as well as interesting new insights into scientific and artistic practice. On March 3, 2013 MOS panel discussions with all of the artist and scientists involved with the project moderated by Ari Daniel Shapiro fascinated us with their reflections on the process of scientist and artist collaborations.

The Synergy Artist-Science collaborations was born out of a Climate Art Pizza event organized by science journalist Eli Kintisch. Eli began conducting Climate Art Pizza get-togethers in the Boston area in Fall 2011 when his MIT Knight Science Journalism fellowship brought him to town. More recently he has worked with the Cambridge Arts Council, Catalyst Conversations and the Broad Institute to bring together greater Boston-area organizations and practitioners of art/science initiatives to share current projects and, potentially, to prepare for collaborations, events, and further meetings.

With the national STEM to STEAM movement gaining momentum and a growing international interest in design and innovation, ASKlabs is very enthusiastic about collaborating with other area science/art communicators and educators to contribute to the national and global dialogue on art, design, science, engineering, education, and innovation which will strengthen our community and benefit all of society.

L: R:!-cage.jpg

Climate Art Pizza’s Science Art Blender also took place on April 1, 2013 at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). Billed “minitalks and schmoozing,” this event highlights the massive amount of exciting art and science work happening in Boston. We heard rapidfire 5-minute presentations from: data visualizer aka “visceralizer” Kyuha Shim on Tangible Topography; GSD's Marcus Owens on Multinatural Histories an exhibit being created for Harvard’s Peabody Natural History Museum for Fall 2013 and currently accepting submissions; Marine biologist Whitney Bernstein and artist Lizzie Kripke on the Synergy Artist-Scientist collaborations experiment; RISD Journalist-in-residence Eli Kintisch on his data-driven climate change art project, Here After Now, a collaboration with video artist Sam Jury; physicist Russell Seitz on his CO2 pyramid; artists Andi Sutton and Jane Marsching of Plotform presented their Marsh Radio Island environmental art project; and artist Maria Molteni gave us a bee waggle dance demonstration to articulate the many components of her work Festooning the Inflatable Beehive. The minitalks were followed by schmoozing - it was a great event - thanks to all the presenters, sponsors and attendees!

It’s a terrific time to be exploring science and art in Boston, so go check out some innovative and inspiring work right here, right now, at the epicenter of science, art, and technology. Follow @ASKlabsAlberta on Twitter to keep up on all the latest #sciart events in the Boston area. We’ll see you there!

Find ASKlabs on Twitter: @ASKlabsAlberta
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CommentsCategories April 2013 Art Boston DocFilm Events SciArt SciComm Science Social Media STEM to STEAM Tags #bostonarts #sciartboston #sciart George Fifield, Cyberarts, Ben Hogue, MOS, Museum of Science, Lisa Monrose, Catalyst Conversations, Deborah Davidson, Eli Kintisch, Climate Art Pizza, Blender, Science on Screen, STEM to STEAM, Felice Frankel, Alan Lightman, Synergy, Ocean Stories, WHOI, Whitney Bernstein, Lizzie Kripke

Mar 8, 2013



ASKlabs’ dynamic film and TV productions often highlight creativity at the interface of art and science. Naturally, we’ve taken an interest in the STEM to STEAM movement, the educational policy initiative to incorporate art and design into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). On the final day of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) meeting this year in Boston, we attended the “Benefits Beyond Beauty: Integration of Art and Design into STEM Education and Research” panel to see what scientists, artists, and educators have been doing to advance innovation and creativity; many have brought art and science together.

The panel was organized by Rieko Yajima, Project Director of Research Competitiveness at AAAS and Gunalan Nadarajan, Dean of Art and Design at the University of Michigan. They brought together “four national art + science initiatives, including three that are funded by the NSF, that illustrate how art and design are affecting the practice of science education, public engagement, and research collaborations”. The speakers were Gunalan Nadarajan; Brian K. Smith, Dean of Continuing Education at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD); J.D. Talasek, Director, Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences, and Marina McDougall, Curator at the Exploratorium Museum.

One way in which this panel immediately differed from others we attended was its structure: panelist talks were reduced to ten minutes apiece so that the whole group could then interact and hold breakout sessions in smaller groups to discuss experiences and ideas. The educators, scientists, artists, and media-makers in the audience could share their ideas and questions, as well as their own experiences in research and in the classroom.

At the National Academy of Sciences, J.D. Talasek runs the DC Art Science Evening Rendezvous (DASER) program, inspired by LASER. Though he started out as an engineer, Talasek is also trained as an artist and teaches a Museums in the Digital Age class at John Hopkins University. He posited that both Art and Science represent important human inquiry. Through his work with the National Academy, he has been developing programs (including an app) aimed at visual iconography and the history of science. Talasek pointed out that there are strongly formed social and academic perceptions about science and art, and it is a challenge to move beyond those ideas. In fact, bringing art and design into scientific inquiry can be seen as a career threat for some scientists, presenting difficulties in funding at the very least. However, he argued, the recent conflux of data streams are meaningless unless we can visualize them! Some of the best examples he provided of data visualization work were Katy Borner’s Atlas of Science, and the Edna Guenther Digital Arboretum.

Computer scientist and Educator Brian K Smith presented “STEM to STEAM: Developing New Frameworks for Art/Science Pedagogy,” Smith heads up the STEM to STEAM initiative at RISD where President John Maeda is a vocal proponent in the effort to change education legislation. While internationally known as an art and design school, RISD is not necessarily in the business of producing artists; rather an education at RISD aims to provide students with tools for innovation and creativity; the ideas and methods that fuel entrepreneurship and the US edge on innovation. Smith explained the need for art, design, and creativity in the field of learning sciences and at the interface of computing and technology learning. He shared William Bennett’s (former Secretary of Education under Reagan) recent op-ed piece in the Detroit Free Press declaring that STEM-based education in the US is missing its mark. Smith feels that a STEM-deficient education holds back the economy, and that together with a drop in creativity (see The Creativity Crisis), there is a serious need for rethinking STEM education. This needs to include innovation and experience, particularly at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts: he asks, how does design fuel the experience and the intersection of technology and arts? With funding from the National Science Foundation, RISD has been heavily involved in this rethinking via its STEM to STEAM initiatives, which have helped to formulate House Resolution 51 re-introduced on February 4, 2013, by US Representative Jim Langevin (D) to turn STEM to STEAM. The petition can be signed here. 


“Art allows new ways in and through scientific material and thought.”

Margaret Wertheim
Science Communicator and Founder, The Institute for Figuring

Curator Marina MacDougall of San Francisco’s Exploratorium presented “Exploratorium: Art and Inquiry”  talked first about the place of the Exploratorium at the intersection of art and science. The unique museum, which was founded by Frank Oppenheimer in 1969, is a hybrid museum and lab, focused on education. Artists have been key to the formation and continuation of the museum: its first show was Cybernetic Serendipity. An early artist in residence program at the museum has resulted in a long term exhibit by artist Bob Miller which explores light and shadow. In fact, art has continued to be an integral part of the museum’s methodologies, which understand art as a cultural tool to advance human knowledge. MacDougall explained that the Exploratorium views art as a way of knowing. They believe that art is an open ended process of working, investigating, speculating, and going along unknown paths - with the unknown something being a discovery. The world eagerly awaits the re-opening of the Exploratorium in its new location in April 2013.

“Art is a culturally evolved strategy for human cognition related to complex problems.”
Simon Penny
Artist and Curator

Finally, Dean Gunalan Nadarajan spoke the 2010 National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) conference which explored the intersection of art and science and potential collaborations. The result of this meeting was a national network called SEAD (science, engineering, art, design). This network was established to respond to complex problems with multidisciplinary teams.

This panel was an excellent survey of ongoing art-science collaborations. It was also a great way to connect with current and interested practitioners from around the world. We loved seeing that art is an integral part of scientific research, communication, and education. Art and design-thinking are vital to the complex problem-solving of scientific and technological innovation and the broad spectrum of art and science programs represented at this symposium indicates the huge potential for work which bridges these fields.

Find ASKlabs on Twitter: @ASKlabsAlberta
"LIKE" ASKlabs on Facebook 

Stay tuned to ASKlabs blog for upcoming posts on the (Harold “Doc”) Edgerton Center at MIT, as well as coverage of the grand re-opening of the SF Exploratorium Museum by a special guest blogger!

Thanks for livetweeting the #AAASsciart panel: @sgalla, @ktraphagen

CommentsCategories Art Boston Events SciArt SciComm Science STEM to STEAM

Feb 28, 2013

Visualizing Science: Seeing Unseen Forms

Visualizing Science: Seeing Unseen Forms

The recent AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) conference, organized by the publishers of Science, brought thousands of attendees to Boston's Hynes Convention Center. This year's #AAASmtg, entitled "The Beauty and Benefits of Science" grabbed our attention because that's exactly what we focus on here at ASKlabs. Read on to hear about the most interesting #sciart talks of the conference: "Artful Science" which looked at the science and math behind the natural world; and the "Beauty and Utility of Scientific Images" symposium which presented tools scientists have developed to visualize the invisible - from cells to stars.

Organized by science and art education pioneer John R. Jungck of Beloit College, WI, the Artful Science symposium made connections across disciplines, exploring the intersection of art and science through mathematical equations and biological forms. Panelists Maura FlanneryRobert J. KrawczykJo Ellis-Monaghan, and mathematician/engineer turned sculptor George W. Hart dazzled participants with examples from botany, seashells, and mathematics-inspired sculpture. Professor Flannery opened with "Herbaria are works of art that are essential to science." Herbaria, an early field of science gave rise to botanical illustrations. With the advent of the printing press and reproducible drawings the field of botany was born.

Robert Krawczyk, an architect from Illinois Institute for Technology, explores chaos theory. He says, "Scientific phenomena have an artistic aesthetic. I may see things in there that scientists may not see." You can see his works online:

Why do we have such an immediate aesthetic response to seashells? Because seashells are self-similar, there is a sense of a repeating shape, a pattern. Presenter Jo Ellis-Monaghan spoke about "Seashells, Math and the Natural World" arguing that mathematics is both a creative language, and a language for describing reality. If she could write down the equations for a shimmering ocean surface, she said, she would give them to friends in the midwest. Seashells have helical spirals, and their mathematical model can also be used to recreate fossils and to figure out the structure of ancient ammonites. Seashell models are also a good introduction to vector modelling for students. On the left below is an example of Delauney triangulation and on the right, Voronoi fractals:


George W. Hart, (creator of the scupture shown below) is inspired by various forms and aesthetics, many of which are found under the sea. His large-scale works, made from materials ranging from books, and steel, to plastic from 3D printers, can be seen in major museums and public spaces. He recently helped to establish the Museum of Mathematics in NYC, AND he's Vi Hart's Dad! How cool is that?

Professor John R. Jungck, founder of Bioquest, emphasized the importance of beauty, fun, and collaboration. "Mathematics is a lens that allows us to see," he says, and adds that seeing is: doing, measuring, re-visioning, and modelling, all of which leads to a deeper understanding of how forms and patterns come about. He recommended Ernst Haeckel's book Art Forms in Nature and pled for educators to combine art and science in the classroom. And of course no presentation on form is complete without mention of D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson, pioneering mathematical biologist, author of the definitive tome "On Growth and Form" (1917). His observations of phyllotaxis (numerical relationships between spiral structures and the Fibonacci sequence) have become a textbook staple.

The symposium The Beauty and Utility of Scientific Images organized by Kartik Sheth, Associate Astronomor, NRAO (moderator) and Margaret Meixner, Astronomer, Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) transported participants beyond the visible worlds of seashells and plants, diving into invisible worlds. This symposium included diverse perspectives on the use of scientific imagery for research and public engagement in the fields of astronomy, environmental sciences, molecular biology, and neuroradiology.

Each speaker explained the process of creation and the use of imagery in making visible what is otherwise unseeable, with the aim of showing how visualizations contribute to new and pivotal research, as well as inspiring global movements and engaging the public. Stefi Baum pointed out that sophisticated instruments allow astronomers to capture images of phenomena on other wavelengths that are not on the visual spectrum. This not only creates beautiful and fascinating imagery, but also provides new data for astronomical interpretation.

Molecular Biologist Tom Kirchhausen uses multimedia imagery to both develop and communicate his research. He included examples of “molecular snapshots”, live movies, and “molecular movies” to illustrate the ways that visualizations aid research in the study of cellular clathrin coats. Both Kirchhausen and Baum gave evidence that images help scientists study phenomena which are either too far away or too small to see or observe. In fact, Kirchhausen provided an excellent dynamic visual to illustrate scale (check it out!) to explain just how tiny his object of study is, and why molecular snapshots and molecular movies are needed for his lab's work. Kirchhausen asked: are scientific images simply a visual record of our work? How can they be used to transmit knowledge and interpretation? Should visual aesthetics influence the scientific endeavor? 

David Yousem, Professor of Radiology at the John Hopkins Medical Institution in Baltimore, MD, explained that images can aid surgeons -- images of the brain and its pathways mapped onto surgical cases can help surgeons avoid disrupting important functioning parts of the brain. Yousem claims that these radiographs have also been mistaken for paintings when hung on a wall!

Imagery is an integral part of research across scientific fields. At the intersection of science and art we find the fuel that drives innovation and advances technology, knowledge, the humanities, culture, and society. Scientific imagery is also a key aspect of communicating science to the public and engaging the public in the importance of science research. This year's AAAS meeting was an amazing gathering of scientists, visualization and communications experts, and educators, exemplifying the fascinating and dynamic relationships between science and art. Whether researching the visible world around us, microscopic cellular functions, or galaxies far far away, scientists' utility of images and visualizations are a vital part of the scientific endeavor.

Find ASKlabs on Twitter: @ASKlabsAlberta
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Thanks to @RaphaelRosen22 for the livetweetage

Stay tuned for the scoop on #scicommsecrets and Social Media for Scientists #AAASsms.

CommentsCategories Art Boston Environment Events February 2013 SciArt SciComm Science Social Media

Jan 22, 2013

#SCIART Current Events: Boston and Beyond

#SCIART Current Events: Boston and Beyond

Photo Credit: David Maisel’s History’s Shadow

Thanks to everyone who submitted to our BLUR Art & Science Pinterest Contest! Here are some ongoing and upcoming events in the world of Art and Science for you to check out:

Ongoing at FACT Liverpool: Noisy Table, an interactive ping pong table which emits sound as games are played, and Winter Sparks, a show in which four new media artists play with electricity and Tesla coils (both shows until February 24).

January 24: DIY BIO led by Romie Littrel at the Broad Art Center in Los Angeles

January 24: Maya Lin speaks at the Central Library in Copley Square, Boston

January 24: Brazilian animator Guilherme Marcondes presents the work from MIT Game Lab workshop at MIT Museum

January 28: Science on Screen at the Coolidge Corner Theatre presents Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (1998) with a talk by Steven Schlozman, MD

January 30: A Symposium with Gallery talk by Swiss Landscape Architects at Boston Architectural College

February 6: LASER event at Stanford University with talks on various subjects as well as an exercise to encourage discussion of ongoing art and science projects. (Next event April 4.)

February 14: Chemical Romance workshop led by Christina Agapakis at Broad Art Center in Los Angeles

February 15: Compass Points: Joël Tettamanti opens at the MIT Museum with work that focuses on the impact of humans on their environment and landscape.

February 16: Ocean Stories: A Synergy of Art and Science at the Museum of Science, Boston.

February 25-March 24: Encounters Between Art and Science, an exhibit at The British Library by artists on the Art and Science MA programme at Central St Martins - the work is all inspired by the Library and its science collections, and runs alongside Inspiring Science, a series of events and workshops which runs from March 11 to March 24 at The British Library.

Various events held by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences can be found here, taking place in California and Cambridge, MA.

Various events held by the UCLA Art│Sci Center and Lab

For more ideas about exhibits in the coming year, the Smithsonian blog Collage of Arts and Sciences has some recommendations too.

So check out some of these events if they’re near you while we wait for the BLUR contest results!

Find ASKlabs on Twitter: @ASKlabsAlberta
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CommentsCategories Art Boston DocFilm Environment Events January 2013 SciArt SciComm Science Social Media UK US World

Jan 3, 2013


2012 was a busy year for ASKlabs: filmmaking, social media, researching new ideas and stories, and an excellent film premiere. We participated in our first hackathon, went to our first Meetup, and made our first microdocumentary (super short film). Additional 2012 highlights include artist Tom Sachs' "Mission to Mars" installation at the Park Street Armory, Ai Weiwei at the the Hirshhorn Museum, Lauren Greenfield's documentary film "Queen of Versailles," meeting popular science author Steven Johnson, attending the World Congress of Science Producers conference in DC, and being safe inside a Faraday cage while being zapped with 1 megavolt of electricity.

We completed our film “Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm,” in February and had an excellent film premiere event at the Boston Museum of Science in November as part of their "When Art Meets Science" film series. San Francisco high-voltage engineer Greg Leyh appeared in person and Daniel Davis dazzled our audience with an amazing show of electricity in the MOS Theater of Electricity; the event was lauded in the Boston Globe and sold out.  Audience members and MOS staff all agreed that our event “Lightning Strikes” exceeded every expectation. We are extremely grateful to our friend and supporter, Boston artist and inventor (and sometimes museum consultant) Steve Hollinger for making this happen. Thanks to Lisa Monrose and Jennifer Garrett at the Museum of Science. West-coast and European premieres of the film are being planned for 2013. Stay tuned for details.

ASKlabs continues to develop films that increase public awareness and knowledge of global climate change. One greatly impacted area is the coral reef ecosystem. For that project we travelled to Cancun, Mexico to film the underwater sculptures of Jason de Cairnes Taylor which are seeded to help coral regenerate. The film will be completed in Spring of 2013.

In August, ASKlabs produced the microdocumentary “Putting it Together: The Modular Car” about group of MIT students leveraging crowd-sourced innovation to build a fuel-efficient modular vehicle - this car is to be developed in 2014 will do better than 200mpge. Filmed on location at MIT's Edgerton Center, thanks to Camilla Brinkman for helping to make this happen.

We jumped into transmedia when the Zeega/Tribeca Film Festival Hackathon accepted our interactive documentary concept about the late 19th century War of Currents between Edison and Tesla; during the day-long Hackathon we created films with other media-makers and artists using the novel new browser-based editing software developed by Jesse Shapins and his crew at Zeega in Cambridge. 

ASKlabs is currently in the midst of the BLUR pinterest contest - people from around the world are submitting Pinterest boards of images that say "beautiful science." We’re excited to bring the international emerging art/science community together as we approach the January 15th deadline for submissions.

At the close of 2012, we are developing what we believe is the perfect science-art documentary. We’ll reveal more as soon as we can.

We hope to see you at one of our screenings or events in 2013, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @ASKlabsAlberta. Thank you for your enthusiam and support always!


Alberta Chu

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CommentsCategories Art Boston DocFilm Environment Events January 2013 SciArt SciComm Science Social Media UK US World

Dec 27, 2012

Hashing out Art and Science Hashtags & BLUR Pinterest Contest Prizes!

Twitter is a GREAT way to reach out to people that you don’t know but who have similar interests or do similar work. But to catch their attention, how do we know which hashtags to drop into which Tweets? Certainly more specific ones like #physics or #illustration make sense, but what about more generally? If Twitter can help us build a community around people who appreciate the collaboration of art and science, then we need a common language to help us communicate with each other. We have looked into the most common uses, recently, of some art and science hashtags and here's what we found:

But where’s the hashtag??
Image from

So, we’ll start with the shortest, and most easily Tweetable: #artsci does bring up some interesting tweets but the feed is choked by information from the Registrars of Arts and Science departments such as Rutgers Camden or University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts and Science. On the other hand, #sciart has lots of great Tweets, and seems a lot more widely used than #artsci. Surprisingly, though it seems clunkier, #scienceart comes up with the widest and coolest array of relevant entries. These include videos of snowflake chemistry, beautiful illustrations, and calls for collaborations and submissions to science and art competitions. And finally, the very clunky #artandscience, as far as we can tell, brings up great stuff but is more institutionally based, so things like exhibits and articles are there, rather than random Twitter users sharing with each other.

This is not to say these hashtags are going to continue to be used this way. Social media is constantly evolving. If nothing else, it will remind you of the variety of ways you can search for cool ideas and inspirations in the world of art and science, which you can then use for your BLUR Pinterest board contest entries! Entries are due in just a few weeks on January 15, 2013. You can SUBMIT via Facebook message to our FB page: ASKLabs Documentary Film.

Announcing revised ASKLABS BLUR Pinterest Contest Prizes:
1st place: $200 Visa Gift Card and collection of three ASKlabs “Science as Art” documentary films featuring sculptures by Richard Serra, Anish Kapoor, and Eric Orr.
2nd place:  $50 Visa Gift Card and collection of three ASKlabs “Science as Art” documentary films featuring sculptures by Richard Serra, Anish Kapoor, and Eric Orr.
3rd place: Collection of three ASKlabs “Science as Art” documentary films featuring sculptures by Richard Serra, Anish Kapoor, and Eric Orr.

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CommentsCategories Art December 2012 SciArt SciComm Science Social Media UK US World

Dec 19, 2012

Art & Science Blogs: Some of our favorites to inspire your BLUR Pinterest boards!


Looking for some inspiration to help prepare your BLUR contest entry? Here are some of our favorite recent blog posts from the world of Science and Art.

Visual Science is a frequently updated blog from Discover magazine which presents new work, interesting issues in scientific imagery, and current exhibitions. A recent post highlights the work of local artist Nathalie Miebach, who combines basket-weaving, climate data, and climate change in her sculptures. Miebach’s work can be seen at the Massachusetts College of Art New Residency Hall in Boston, or at any of her upcoming shows, including a collaborative exhibit at Museum of Science, Boston and a solo exhibit at the California Museum of Arts and Craft, Los Angeles, CA in 2013. Exciting stuff!

If you want to know more about upcoming exhibits in your area, Symbiartic, which is a great blog from Scientific American run by bloggers Kalliopi Monoyios and Glendon Mellow, has brought back its “SciArt Buzz” segment, which lists regionally relevant SciArt exhibits and events. Even if you can’t make it to any of the events they’re promoting, you can check out their blog posts, which frequently focus on illustration and visualizations. We enjoyed and shared their shock and horror about sugar contents of common snacks as visualized by!

For more conceptual inspirations, we’d recommend At the Interface, by UK Blogger Johanna Kieniewicz, who works at The British Library. Her recent posts discuss the “how” and “why” of art and science collaborations. Or, if you want something entertaining, check out this post from Hayley Gillespie’s Biocreativity, which highlights the finalists from the Dance Your PhD competition, in which science PhD students choreograph their research! Hayley, who is also the owner/founder of Art.Science.Gallery in Austin, TX, has some great information about regional Texan events and resources, too.

Just wanted to give you some ideas for your BLUR Pinterest board entries! Entries are due in just a few weeks on January 15, 2013. You can SUBMIT via Facebook message to our FB page: ASKLabs Documentary Film.

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CommentsCategories Art December 2012 Events SciArt SciComm Science Social Media UK US World

Oct 31, 2012

Filmmaker Alberta Chu: The Science of Art

Filmmaker Alberta Chu: The Science of Art

Boston-based documentary filmmaker Alberta Chu loves to combine two passions––art and science––in her work. She does it yet again in her latest film, Lightning Dreams: The Electrum at Gibbs Farm (2011), which premieres November 7 at Boston’s Museum of Science. Alberta’s fourth documentary, Lightning Dreams highlights the story of Alan Gibbs, one of New Zealand’s most prolific art patrons.

She took the time to talk with me about her career path, the journey leading up to this film, and the voice that she hopes to offer her subjects in the fields of art and science.

ASTRID LIUM: How did you get involved with documentary filmmaking?

ALBERTA CHU: I started out as a biologist, [and] I worked as a researcher in L.A. at a biotech company. I had always wanted to get into journalism, and I thought maybe science documentaries could be a way for me to use my science background and break into documentary or journalism. I started a science consulting company, [where] scientists who were tops in their fields would consult with Hollywood screenwriters and set decorators for accuracy. We worked on one of the X-Men films to develop the Wolverine character [and] help them figure out what his supernatural powers would be. It was a way for them to bounce ideas off scientists and get more creative.

How did working as a researcher lead to documentary films?

I did a segment on volcano research. As a researcher there were tons of stories being produced all the time, and I met tons of producers and directors. Most of the stories I would pitch were science, and on one of the shoots I was producing for Sci-Fi Channel I met Greg Leyh, the guy in my film that is premiering at the Museum of Science. I found out that he was building the world’s biggest tesla coil for this billionaire art collector in New Zealand. I pitched it around L.A., but no one wanted to do it, so I decided to make an independent documentary film called The Electrum about the project in the year 2000 about the Electrum sculpture. That film played at a lot of festivals, aired on PBS, won a bunch of awards.

What is the documentary about?

The film was about a quirky group of scientists and engineers that build the world’s largest tesla coil, which ends up in New Zealand. But the guy who commissioned it––the billionaire–– gave me permission to do the film but he didn’t want to be in it. He was very private at the time. His name is Alan Gibbs and he’s ... just totally cool. He’s building a giant sculpture park and the reason he likes art is the likes the mental sparring with the artists. He likes to push them to do better work. He pushes everyone around him, you can see why he’s so successful because he never settles for anything. He’s always pushing for more ... so that’s why he’s the owner of the world’s biggest tesla coil!

How is your relationship with Alan?

He’s bigger than life. It’s been so interesting to have interactions with him, and he likes my films. So he’s been sort of like my patron, in a way. So he invited me to do the Serra film (2003-04), then the Anish Kapoor film (2009-10). Then he asked me to do a film about the Electrum sculpture in 2010, about 10 years after the original film was made. He wanted this new film to include his perspective. The new film, Lightning Dreams, is about the conception and the whole story of the sculpture.

Why do you do the work you do?

I make films about scientists and artists because they see things that aren’t there yet. They’re envisioning the future and I think that’s really inspiring. They inspire me to make films about them, and my hope is that my films will inspire other people to push boundaries of what’s known and unknown and to look and wonder and dream themselves. Because that’s the only thing that humans can do that computers can’t. There’s something about creativity that’s impossible to articulate. I mean science and art really are the same thing and they have become very divergent in today’s culture.

How do you choose the topics for your documentaries?

I’m about making films about creative people that are changing the world for the better, who want to make a difference. I make films about scientists that are making a difference, trying to make the world a better place. If I can give a voice ... I can help them announce their victories and inspire people to help with what they’re doing. I can help them get out their important messages because they are doing very important work. A lot of time they can’t explain it to a regular audience, and I can help.

Do you feel like you’re a translator in some way?

Yes, translating ideas and concepts for a general audience, totally. I hope to be. And same with artists.

It can be a challenge, though.

Yeah, it’s hard to create something. It’s not easy, none of it’s easy, it’s all work. It can be very rewarding work, but if I can help a scientist or artist expose their labors and their victories ... and their failures to a wider audience, that’s what I’m about -- finding the most interesting creative people in the world, and telling stories that really inspire people to create.

- Interview by Astrid Lium, Twitter: @astridspeak 

The world premiere of Lightning Dreams is November 7, 2012, at 6:45 p.m. at Boston’s Museum of Science (1 Museum of Science Drive, Boston, MA). The screening is part of the museum’s “Lightning Strikes” event, one of the Fall 2012 adult offerings. For more information:
Facebook Event Page 
MOS Event Page

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CommentsCategories Art Boston DocFilm Environment Events October 2012 SciArt SciComm Science US World Tags Alan Gibbs, Lightning Dreams, art, science, documentary film, alberta chu, museum of science, boston greg leyh

Oct 12, 2012

More ASKlabs Events on the Horizon

More ASKlabs Events on the Horizon

This just in: the RISD Museum will be holding the world premiere screening of our 2010 film "New Form at the Farm: Anish Kapoor Dismemberment Site 1" along with an old favorite, our 2004 film "Seeing the Landscape: Richard Serra's Tuhirangi Contour." Back in 2004 "Seeing the Landscape" screened at the MFA Boston, the MIT List, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the National Gallery of art as part of the Washington DC Environmental Film Festival as well as at the Festival of Films on Art in Montreal. 

Both films will be screened on the same night, and we're looking at Jan./Feb. 2013.

Hope you can make it and please help spread the word!

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CommentsCategories Art Boston DocFilm Environment Events October 2012 SciArt SciComm Science Social Media US World

Oct 5, 2012

Putting it Together: The Modular Car at MIT

Putting it Together: The Modular Car at MIT

What can we do about global warming that can really make a difference? How can we really reduce automobile carbon emissions? What does the vehicle of the future look like? That's what Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) students Anna Jaffe, Nii Armar, and Robyn Allen asked themselves when they founded the Vehicle Design Summit (VDS) in 2006. Six years and several experimental vehicles later, the group has grown into a global collective of designers, engineers, and specialists of every sort, representing nearly every continent (with the exception of Antarctica.) Collectively, they have built vehicles that achieve 200mpg(e) on alternative fuels. Their latest prototype vehicle called ArchiMITes, with its ability to change between different fuel systems and car bodies, will serve as a platform to develop modular vehicle parts. This leads into the 10^5 Competition, the next big project for the Vehicle Design Summit.  Projected for 2013-14, the10^5 Competition which will leverage innovation around the world in an effort to build out 100,000 permutations of possible modular cars, each with the minimum fuel efficiency goal set by the XPrize: 100mpg(e). 

Sponsored by GE, film distributors Focus Forward Films and Cinelan launched the Focus Forward Film Competition in April 2012. Their call for submissions: short films on innovators and inventors changing the world for the better was an opportunity that ASKlabs absolutely could not pass up -- our passion is making films about exactly this! After months of research, we thought Anna and crew fit the bill perfectly. So we spent a day in August filming at VDS headquarters: MIT's Edgerton Center.

Many thanks to Anna, Nii, and Mitsu Shinomiya for participating in front of the camera and to the following who participated behind the camera: Director of Photography Stephen McCarthy, Editor Stephanie Munroe, Animator Alex Hogan, Composer P. Andrew Willis, Audio Mix Eric Masunaga at Modulus, Post-Production Consultant: Gabriele de Simone, with thanks to Murray Robinson, Camilla Brinkman, and Alison Hynd.

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CommentsCategories Art Boston DocFilm Events October 2012 SciArt SciComm Science US

Feb 1, 2012

Lightning Dreams - Delivered!

The making of this film has been an amazing journey, which began in San Francisco in 1997. It has been an incredible pleasure to work with Alan Gibbs and Noel Lane, and the entire Gibbs Family on this series of documentaries about the building of Gibbs Farm.

I had an excellent crew on this show, one I'm eager to work with again. New Zealand DP Scottie McKinnon delivered above and beyond. Editor Sabrina Zanella-Foresi, Composer Andrew Willis, and the Modulus crew: Eric Masunaga, Paul McGowan, Evan Schwenterly and Frank McDonnell on Color-Correction and HD Mastering, Damon Addleman the Re-Recording Mixer. And of course my trusty "Kitchen Cabinet" who reviewed numerous roughcuts and gave invaluable feedback: Murray Robinson, Steve Hollinger, Fritz Klaetke, Susan Battista, Polly Becker, Camilla Brinkman, Alexandra Metral, Gitika Desai, and Jocelyn Glatzer. Thanks to all!

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CommentsCategories Art Boston DocFilm Events February 2012 SciArt SciComm Science US World Tags tesla coil, gibbs Farm, New Zealand, Alberta Chu, Greg Leyh

May 10, 2012

The Nerdgirls have arrived:

ASKlabs recent projects include directing shoots for Nerdgirls, an organization encouraging young women to pursue careers in engineering, founded by Dr. Karen Panetta, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Tufts University (pictured below receiving a Presidential Award for Excellence in Education). Congratulations on the Presidential Award, Dr. Karen! My 8-year old daughter is looking forward to joining your ranks. Thanks for doing what you do.

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CommentsCategories Boston Events May 2012 SciComm Science US World

Mar 13, 2012

CERN welcomes its first artist in residence

CERN welcomes its first artist in residence

(Linz, Geneva, 13.3.2012) Creative collisions have begun at CERN  with the arrival of Julius von Bismarck as the laboratory’s first Collide@CERN artist in residence. A rising star of the international arts scene, von Bismarck will team up with theoretical physicist James Wells as he works alongside the lab’s engineers and scientists for the next two months before moving to the Ars Electronica Futurelab in Linz, Austria for the second part of his residency. Von Bismarck and Wells will give a public presentation in CERN’s Globe of Science and Innovation on 21 March.

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CommentsCategories Art Events March 2012 SciArt SciComm Science STEM to STEAM World