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Craig K. Comstock

Craig K. Comstock

Posted: February 25, 2011 11:20 AM

The Art of Making Science Dance

Images obtained from scientific instruments: what makes some of them dance with visual delight? Most pictures from microscopes or telescopes are analyzed as data, in the hopes of eventually answering hard questions: what is "dark energy"? how did life arise on earth?

Recently, however, artists and scientists are seeking to understand the relation between their fields. The daddy of this quest is Nikon's "small world" contest. Likewise, some of the descriptions on the Hubble telescope site are phrased in unmistakeably aesthetic terms. For example, the image called "Still Life with NGC 2170" shows a nebula 15 light years wide, but it is described as being "like the common household items still-life painters often choose for their subjects." (How do you like them apples?)

Here are some astonishing images:

Five-day-old Zebrafish Head
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A maker of microscopes, Nikon holds a "small world" competition for photos from the world of the tiny. Like painters, some scientists have an eye out for images that are aesthetically pleasing or, according to the capacious contest rules, that have"visual impact." Last year one of the top winners was this five-day-old zebrafish head that was fluorescent-stained and magnified 20 times. (Credit: Dr. Hideo Otsuna, "Zebrafish Head," courtesy of the Nikon Small World; included here by permission, as are all slides in this show)
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