'breathe' by Harriet Schwarzrock – winner of the Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize 2014 (Sculpture & Objects)


In this edition

Quote of the month

“Art is science made clear.”

— Jean Cocteau

Art-science database

Synapse is a database of art-science collaborations, which you can search by artist, scientist, writer, project or exhibition.  

Welcome to our March 2015 newsletter: Communicating science through art

Scientific American bloggers Symbiartic are this week stirring up a storm—a #SciArt tweet storm. Their aim is to get people tweeting their science-related art and thereby “advance the presence of images in science communication and culture”.

What happens when science and art get together? Once we started looking for examples, we couldn’t stop! The possibilities are intriguing and infinite.

Tell us about your favourite artwork that communicates science. Or get in on the #SciArt tweet storm.


As always, we’d love your feedback via Facebook, Twitter or email.

Regards from the @EconnectTeam:

Exposing science on the streets

By Robbie Mitchell

I appreciate art on the outside of buildings rather than on the inside. It makes it more visible, exposed and open to critique.

Whenever I see something painted and stuck to a wall or open for the public to touch and climb I feel compelled to stop and consider it and photograph it to share on my blog.

After reading about the SciArt tweet storm, I stopped and considered where I had ever seen science-art on the streets.

I’ve seen several Albert Einsteins painted on walls but nothing else really sprang to mind.

Graffiti by Banksy

A quick online image search didn’t show up much either, though I did find this amusing graffiti in Glendon Mellow’s Scientific American post, Tagging science art:

Graffiti by Banksy
Photo: paul nine-o/Flickr

I get the impression from Glendon’s post that he too is rather disappointed that science is not depicted more by street artists—not because street artists lack the imagination and skill, but more so that scientists (and science communicators) do not consider it a valid communication medium.

Science needs to be visible, exposed and open to critique and, for me, street art ticks all the boxes.

Finding art in air pollution

By Mary O’Callaghan

How polluted is the air you breathe every day? How does it change over the course of the day or week?

Not questions that immediately bring to mind ‘art’, at least not for me.

Neighbourhood Air is an art installation that monitors the air quality in Auckland in real time.

I was surprised to learn that, in 2011 at least, Auckland’s air pollution levels were nearly double those of Sydney.

Smog over Auckland

Photo: Fairfax Media

Artist Janine Randerson collaborated with meteorologists and programmers to transform a disused traffic control box in Symonds Street into an air-quality monitoring station.

Watch it online at Neighbourhood Air.

I like the simplicity of the presentation and the way you can move along the timeline.

And the colours and music are soothing, even if the carbon monoxide levels may be choking Aucklanders to death—visual danger thresholds would be useful.

Neighbourhood Air: The horizontal bars represent measures of air quality over Auckland. 

I’d also like a way to reveal meaningful explanations of the gases measured: NO2 (nitrogen dioxide), CO (carbon monoxide) and VOCs (volatile organic compounds)—at least enough to know the primary source of these nasties.

Cataloguing our lives through photography

By Sarah Cole

As I glance back over my everyday photos of the past week or month, I am struck by the catalogue of the minutiae of our lives, of being human.

Seemingly inconsequential images can evoke many different aspects of our days, later.

And there’s so much ‘invisible’ science in our lives: for instance, the way waves ripple in predictable and interacting ways around obstacles and rocks on a river.

Pylons under the Pacific Motorway, Brisbane

Photo: Xiaoming Wang

I love the art of photography for this reason, so I was fascinated to wade through scienceimage, CSIRO’s library of ‘science’ photos and videos, which opened to the public last April.

The library of 4110 images and videos catalogues our landscapes, people, unique and not-so-unique animals, fire, food, and much more.

And they’re all free to use under a Creative Commons licence.

The photo of the pylons under the Pacific Motorway, Brisbane, was used in a report released at a conference I attended, and shows a distinctive feature of my now-hometown.

This image evokes memories of the many times I’ve walked alongside the river and climbed the cliff-face near those pylons.

Sculpture to pique your curiosity

By Robbie Mitchell

I stopped off at Urana in southern New South Wales recently to take a picture of the 4-metre spider sculpture which is dangling from a grain silo.

My entomologist girlfriend was impressed by the specimen, particularly with how the artist had tried to correctly represent the spider’s claws at the end of its legs—a feature that fascinates people when she explains it to them.

I think large sculptures of spiders and insects are great because they allow you to more easily see and appreciate the complex anatomy of these small creatures.

Along came a spider, by Andrew Whitehead, Urana, New South Wales

Photo: Robbie Mitchell

The Rock Music sculpture outside Questacon in Canberra is also fun. I like it because it’s interactive and lends itself to explaining concepts of sound.

You can grab a handful of the pebbles that surround the sculpture and drop them down a grate in the sculpture’s central cavity.

The falling pebbles hit nails inside the cavity causing them to vibrate and chime. Hollow containers on each side amplify the sound.

Rock Music

Photo: Questacon

More abstract is Michael Parekowhai’s sculpture of a seal balancing a grand piano on its nose.

It makes me stop and remember my physics classes about how balanced and unbalanced forces work—something the artist would also have had to think about.

The Horn of Africa, by Michael Parekowhai

Photo: Queensland Art Gallery

While not depicting science per se, the seal can pique people’s interest and lead to a discussion on physics or even why trained seals are good at balancing things on their nose (whiskers are the key).