APS News

Science and Art Flow Together in Upcoming Conference

By Ernie Tretkoff

Many scientists recognize the artistic quality of their images, and many artists are inspired by science. As part of a growing movement to bring those two groups together, the fourth Science and Art symposium (ScArt4) will be held June 9-12, 2005 in New Brunswick, NJ.

The ScArt4 meeting will focus on fluids and waves, including waves in engineering, geophysics, astrophysics, and biology. Artists will present creations that use or were motivated by fluid and wave science. "It turns out that aside from fractals, fluid dynamics makes the nicest pictures—that and astronomy," said conference organizer and fluid physicist Norman Zabusky.

Engineers and scientists will emphasize the imagery of their work, and try to answer questions such as how they visualize their discoveries, and how they produce "art" from visualizations, observations and numerical simulations. Visual artists will discuss how they use aspects of fluid and wave motion in their creative work, and how science and technology motivated and aided them.

The scheduled keynote speakers include artists Ned Kahn, Donna Cox and June Wayne, astrophysicist Michael Norman, and historian Peter Galison.

This interdisciplinary meeting will be the fourth meeting in the ScArt series, and is the first time the ScArt conference has been held in the United States. Zabusky hopes the conference will especially attract young people whose interests lie somewhere between art and science.

In addition to talks, there will be an exhibition room, where contributors' works will be displayed. All forms of visual art, including painting, sculpture, photographs, animations, and installations may be exhibited.

In association with the World Year of Physics, there will also be a visual art contest, with monetary prizes. The year 2005, in addition to being the anniversary of Einstein's miraculous year, is also the 50th anniversary of Fermi, Pasta, and Ulam's study of nonlinear oscillators. Works submitted for the visual art contest must be associated with some aspect of the Einstein or FPU anniversaries. "It would be nice to get people to submit artworks that symbolize the essence of 2005," said Zabusky.

Zabusky is a computational fluid physicist who became interested in the imagery of his work. "As I was working, I noticed that the things I was making had a certain kind of beauty, so I started asking, "what is art?" I decided after many years that what I was doing was art, if I extended it a little bit."

He found that he could converse with artists, and "within this certain group, there was a very strong rapport, and now it's a whole movement." There are now many conferences, in addition to ScArt, that bring together scientists and artists, said Zabusky.

Zabusky believes that scientific images can be considered art, but that the motivation for creating them is usually different from that of an artist. "Usually when an artist creates art, he's not doing it to try to understand nature, whereas when a scientist is creating an image, he's trying to understand some phenomenon, and trying to bring out the essence of that phenomenon in the image. The question is, 'is that art?' The motivation is completely different, but the end result could be beautiful, could be striking, or could be absorbing, and therefore I think it qualifies as art." As an example, Zabusky mentioned the pictures taken by the Hubble space telescope. "Some of the pictures are so striking that you might want to hang them on your wall. Is that art? Well, nobody painted it, but it has an uncanny beauty, a mystery," he said.

He points out that there is a whole range from science to art. For many artists, said Zabusky, science is an important part of how they create their images. "What they do is they draw their inspiration from something scientific, but the final product may not be very close to science. There's a whole spectrum."

For more information on the ScArt4 conference and the visual art competition, visit http://mechanical.rutgers.edu/scart4

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Editor: Alan Chodos
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