I have to start by saying that while I understand dancing takes strength, grace and skill (attributes I’ve never been accused of having) for me watching dance performances has always been a little perplexing and inaccessible. I think I’ve seen the Nutcracker a half-dozen times and I still have no idea what’s going on for a majority of the ballet. Maybe I’m missing that part of my brain that figures out body language. But these dances are different, because these are folks dancing about science. And these are just a few of the results from the most recent Dance for Your Ph.D. contest, an annual competition where graduate students try to explain the basic idea behind their research using choreography instead of PowerPoint.
The most recent winner is a dance about creating aluminum as a strong as steel. Others are about cell signaling during cancer or what happens to the knee implants inside the body for years. That’s the one below. And what’s clear is that it is not easy to use dance to explain research, but the research isn’t easy to understand in the first place.
About two and a half years ago Danica (remember her?!) posted about photographer Caleb Charland, and how he creates fantastic images without the use of digital trickery. What I didn’t realize at the time is how much of Caleb’s work is interested in demonstrating scientific principles; in fact, he has two series series called Demonstrations where he… well… demonstrates electrical/chemical properties of everyday objects and captures it on film. Another part of his work seems interested in carrying out experiments in film, itself. Whether he’s slapping it, setting it on fire, or letting bacteria eat away at the different layers of fim, this is work where the photograph isn’t just the evidence of the experiment, but the experiment itself.
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Nicholas Forker is in good company.
Forker employs the astronaut archetype, the 21st Century Lone Ranger, to create forms that can’t be made without the human touch. His work plays with duality: light/dark, man/machine, etc. These images from his Shadows series are an “attempt to take the drawing medium through an evolution of its own.” Forker uses lasers on glass to create an images that are close to invisible. Lights a powerful medium, giving the figures free floating life.
You may remember Nicholas from when Alex wrote about his mural that he created back in 2011. Vice’s Spaced Out did a wonderful piece on him this summer traversing through New York City in a Mercury-looking silver suit, too.
Whoa. These posters produced by the WPA in the 1930’s are really getting the message across. Made by government-employed artists to promote the seriousness of treating syphilis, the posters reflect an urgency that antibiotics have largely assuaged in developed countries. The Library of congress has a trove of posters created by the Work Projects Administration that promote everything from treating STIs to free summer art clases for high school students.
There’s something about the syphilis posters though that are still compelling today. There’s been a recent rise in syphilis among gay men, who account for 72 percent of new diagnoses, and the fact that the bacterium can also increase the likelihood of contracting HIV. This is serious not only among men who have sex with men in the US and Europe, but also in areas of the world without a robust healthcare systems. The progression of the disease is devastating if untreated and can easily pass from mother to child during pregnancy. So while we can see these posters as a kind of stylish and vintage hysteria, they still speak loudly and honestly to many in the world.
I wanted to dip into the archives this week; Fast Company published a wonderful series on the Apollo missions that reminded me of the wealth of beautiful images from NASA Archives. If you haven’t already taken a mini adventure through NASA Images powered by the SF based Internet Archive – it is definitely on the top ten list of sites to visit for a space suit enthusiast. Some of my favorite rarely seen photographs that are found deep within this vault of many treasures are survival training photographs- my favorite of which are stills from Mercury Group 3 Training.
These Mercury boys had yet to go the moon; Mercury / Apollo Test Pilot Alan Shepard didn’t become the first American in space until 1961 ( as a point of reference – JFK made his famous “We Choose to Go to the Moon” speech in 1962). American manned exploration accomplishments during the Mercury program era were limited, but the possibilities were endless. I think that is why these survival training photographs are so charming. Throw a bunch of lifetime military men in the desert – that’ll get ‘em ready for the final frontier. Not going to lie, their headdresses made out of parachutes make them look more like Devendra Banhart than 1960’s American rocketman.
While Foster + Partners aren’t busy thinking about their projects across the pond (the new Apple Campus and modifying the New York Public Library) the firm is thinking about a project across the atmosphere where they one day hope that using moondust in giant 3-D printers will churn out some architecture.
By using the abundant lunar regolith (the fancy word for moondust) and a combination of inflatable domes and 3-D printing technologies, the design firm has helped the Europoean Space Agency imagine how a human habitation might take shape at the moon’s southern pole. Together, they’ve already started to test wall geometries inside a vacuum. It’s one small step closer to lunar habitation, but still giant leaps from happening.
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If you’ve ever wanted to hear someone talk to works at the intersection of design and science, this video is for you. It features Mathias Gmachl– one of the core collaborators at loop.ph- talking about how science has informed the work that the studio continues to produce. The studio started way back in 2003 when he and the other core collaborator at loop, Rachel Wingfield, worked with Nobel Prize-winning scientist John E. Walker. Walker won his prize for helping to characterize ATP synthase, the molecular motor that Gmachl talks about. Since then, the studio has produced numerous project that translate abstract research into fanciful and tactile designs.
The technical merit behind the newest Halley Research Station is stunning. Located on an ice shelf in Antarctica, the new structure hopes to fare a little better on the frozen seas than its five predecessors. This station, which officially opens today, was realized by Hugh Broughton Architects after the firm won a competition to realize their design for the station. HBA did not exactly have experience with designing extreme cold structures before, but they did have a novel idea about how to new station could avoid becoming crushed under layers of ice and snow, which is how research stations on the ice shelf typically meet their end.
And in case the physical environment wasn’t harsh enough, the spaces have to help research personel cope with being isolated for months in darkness. In this chain of connected modules, the blue modules contain laboratory and living spaces while the red module in the the middle of the series contains special spaces to help the folks wintering on the ice shelf survive. A climbing wall, a hydroponic salad garden, and even a carefully constructed color palette: “The architect worked with a color psychologist to identify ‘refreshing and stimulating’ shades, and developed a bedside lamp with a daylight bulb to simulate sunrise.”
But I’m having to confront another question when I see images of the new project: why does science look the way that science does. This building is a psychology experiment propped up on hydraulic legs with skis at the bottom. It doesn’t need anything else to make it exciting. But the interiors still look unexciting to me, even with the meticulously selected color palette. The architect inside my brain wants the inside to look more sophisticated. This is a new space for the same research station that discovered the hole in the ozone layer some twenty-seven years ago, do they really want to live in a space that looks like a scandanavian dorm from the ’70s?
Maybe they do. The scientists I work with on a daily basis are smart, but they don’t exactly have the best taste. They’re just worried about other things: things like… science. I’ve been distracted entire meetings by terrible fonts and spent embarrassing amounts of time reformatting routinely-used paperwork or organizing the chaotic mess of shelving where we store just about everything. I think I’ve made our lab look more polished and professional, but the scientists, with their cell phones clipped to the waistband of decades-old jeans, are the ones designing the experiments that actually help advance our lab’s research.
It’s not so helpful for me look at a cutting-edge research station like the one above and see only a ceiling I can’t stand. I don’t know what happens to the quality of spaces when more and more technical requirements are packed into its walls, but it happens nonetheless.