Posted in aerospace, astronomy, chemistry, physics

A NASA Engineer Turned Artist Whose Canvas Is a Huge Fish Tank | Design | WIRED

Have you ever been mesmerized by the swirling of the milk in your coffee (or is that just me pre-caffeinated)? Well, that phenomenon at least is interesting to one other person, Kim Keever.

Artist Kim Keever is like a hydroponic Jackson Pollock. Instead of a canvas, though, he drizzles paint into a 200-gallon fishtank.Keever is reticent to share the secrets of his process, but says that after the Sears Easy Living paints are added to the tank, he has anywhere from five to 20 minutes before the liquids diffuse, leaving 200-gallons of murky brown water in their wake. In the moments where the colors whirl and eddy, Keever shoots thousands of photos, choosing one or two before embarking on the five hour processes of emptying, cleaning, and refilling the tank so he can start anew. “They only need to hold up for that ephemeral moment, and then it doesn’t matter,” he says. “Whatever impermanence exists in the materials is irrelevant once the photo is captured.”Keever’s dabblings in acquatic abstract expressionism are a far cry from his rigid college days, where he studied engineering. During summers, he’d intern at NASA, where he worked on missile skin technology and jet nozzles. He had the grades and work ethic to thrive at the space agency and envisioned a career dedicated to improving booster engines, followed by a creative retirement filled with art making. Ultimately, he traded in his slide rule for a low-rent loft in the East Village of New York City.Keever began his art career in the New York City of the 1970s, surrounded by the weirdo glamor of Warhol’s Studio, the emerging art of subway graffiti, and the novel sounds of Grandmaster Flash and disco. He spent nearly two decades as a traditional painter and printmaker until he discovered the style and subject that would become his trademark in 1991.

more via A NASA Engineer Turned Artist Whose Canvas Is a Huge Fish Tank | Design | WIRED.

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Posted in biology

Earth’s Most Stunning Natural Fractal Patterns on Wired Science

Wired Science is always a great source for cool photos of science in action. And in this case, some Math thrown in too; via Earth’s Most Stunning Natural Fractal Patterns:

The mathematical beauty of fractals is that infinite complexity is formed with relatively simple equations. By iterating or repeating fractal-generating equations many times, random outputs create beautiful patterns that are unique, yet recognizable.

We have pulled together some of the most stunning natural examples we could find of fractals on our planet.

see them all at Earth’s Most Stunning Natural Fractal Patterns | Wired Science | Wired.com.

Posted in communication and networking, design and architecture, electronic imaging and displays, music

SXSW underway

It seems like a lot of music events are integrating science and technology and becoming everything events. South by Southwest, or SXSW, held in Austin, TX, for the past few years is no exception. It is taking place this week from the 12th – 21st. What started out as a music festival has now become a fully integrated event that takes over the entire city of Austin, TX, for more than a week.

If you’re in anywhere within driving distance of the area, check out their music, film, and interactive events.

Here’s a photo gallery of events from this weekend courtesy of Wired.

NPR is also in looooove with SXSW. Hear the news story about how geeked out SXSW is this year, and some of the NPR music critics’ responses to SXSW bands (hint: they like them a lot).

Photo of SXSW® 2010 Showcasing Act: Ten Bears
Check out the winners of the 2010 ScreenBurn Game Design Competition!
Posted in biology, chemistry, communication and networking, education, electronic imaging and displays, museum

The impact of photography on public opinion

Photography is a powerful tool and/or art form. It can move us to act, and bring far away tragedies onto our kitchen tables or desktops. What brought this to mind this morning specifically was a photo gallery spread on Wired Science about photos of pollution from the 1970s that really got people moving on environmental issues.

Two years after Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, the new institution sent out 100 photographers to document the nation’s environment writ large.

Now, those photos have made it out of the root cellar of the National Archive and onto Flickr Commons, where they are getting a wider viewing than they’ve ever received. The first group of what will become a 15,000-photo set from the Documerica project are now available online to the public.

The photographers were charged with three broad goals: “to photograph America’s environmental problems, to document America’s natural and man-made beauty and to photograph the human condition.”

The original director of the EPA project, Gifford Hampshire, hoped to recreate the success the Depression-era Farm Security Administration had in calling attention to the plight of the nation’s rural poor. The new target was the environment. The visual evidence of the nation’s various pollution problems would help justify the existence of the EPA.

But as it happened, the photographers interpreted their task in different ways. What they captured was not simply a portrait of “nature,” but the environment as people knew it and lived in it.

“Documerica’s official mission effectively focused on popular but valid environmental concerns of the early 1970s: water, air and noise pollution; unchecked urbanization; poverty; environmental impact on public health; and youth culture of the day,” wrote archivist C. Jerry Simmons, in a 2009 article on the collection. “But in reaction to the varied pollution, health and social crises, Documerica succeeded also in affirming America’s commitment to solving these problems by capturing positive images of human life and Americans’ reactions, responses and resourcefulness.”

Traffic jams, noise pollution from jackhammers and 747s, and graffiti appear alongside photos of caribou and western landscapes. Coal mining and mudslides mingle with swimming, movie theaters and greased-pig chases.

It’s a remarkable portrait of the early 1970s, when manufacturing still ruled the economy and environmental laws had just begun to regulate the air and water. The photographs show people, technology and biosphere colliding, producing both devastating consequences and innovative solutions.

Photo: Marc St. Gil/National Archives and Records Administration

See the collection of these powerful photos.

Posted in communication and networking, design and architecture, music

science in music

From Underwire:  What is music? It’s a simple question, but it leads director Christopher Pomerenke in many complicated artistic and scientific directions in his documentary The Heart Is a Drum Machine, now available on DVD.

It’s an expansive, inviting film, which embraces everything from Voyager’s Golden Record and aboriginal funeral chants to brain-music therapy and pop music branding. Along the way, Pomerenke’s mostly unassuming movie is enhanced by interviews with artists, scientists and others deeply invested in charting the pathways of the heart, the prenatal vibration that establishes our musical universe, as well as the mind that modifies those vibrations into meaning.

The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, Tool’s Maynard James Keenan, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante, actor and indie label mogul Elijah Wood, funk doctor George Clinton and many others pay homage to the transformative nature of music in often eloquent and humorous ways in The Heart Is a Drum Machine.

Read full review

Posted in biology, chemistry, education, literature

Books, Books, books

Happy Winter Solstice!

On this, the shortest day of the year, what better way to celebrate the dark and cold by curling up with some good books? Well, to start you off we’ve got some cool science about books.

First, judging a book by its smell is not as crazy as it sounds, according to new research:

Scientists have developed a new test that can measure the condition of old books and precious historical documents on the basis of their aroma.

Perhaps you can’t judge a book by its cover, but there’s a wealth of information to be gleaned from its scent.

A new testing method can rapidly determine the condition of old books and documents by analyzing the bouquet of volatile organic compounds released by paper off-gassing. The technology promises to help conservators assess the condition of old works quickly, while not harming the documents.

“Paper emits more than 200 various compounds of which on the basis of our research we were able to pinpoint to 10 or 15 compounds that carry the most information about the composition of paper,” said Matija Strlie, lead researcher and senior lecturer at the Center for Sustainable Heritage at the University College London.

Strlie and his team surveyed the VOC emissions from 72 paper samples in different stages of decay. From those results, the researchers developed a series of scent markers for the structural stability of documents, books and other paper materials.

The familiar odors of old books, which Strlie’s study describes as “a combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla” varies depending on the chemical reactions and oxidation rates of paper ingredients, such as ash, cellulose, rosin and lignin.

The paper manufacturing era of each book can also reveals a lot about its condition.

“It’s really the technology revolution after 1850 that led to what we call ‘acid paper’ that degrades very rapidly,” Strlie told Discovery News. “Today, for books produced from 1890 to 1900, the pages are already very brittle.”

(Read the full article)

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For those who enjoy looking at the pictures more than the words, a collection of artwork from those old 1950s science textbooks (download the PDF):

The textbooks written by Roy A. Gallant taught a generation of students that science could also be art. But research progresses and artistic methods evolve. So Wired New gave these mid-century classics a 21st-century update.

Click for full feature

Posted in communication and networking, Optics

Hooray for immature brains!

Here’s one more awesome thing about being a kid: you don’t get fooled by certain optical illusions. From Science News and Wired:

Sometimes seeing means deceiving before believing, depending on your age. Children and adults size up objects differently, giving youngsters protection against a visual illusion that bedevils their elders, a new study suggests.

This unusual triumph of kids over grown-ups suggests that the brain’s capacity to consider the context of visual scenes, and not just focus on parts of scenes, develops slowly, say psychologist Martin Doherty of the University of Stirling in Scotland and his colleagues. Even at age 10, children lack adults’ attunement to visual context, Doherty’s team concludes in a paper published online November 12 in Developmental Science.

As a result, visual context can be experimentally manipulated to distort adults’ perception of objects’ sizes. But Doherty’s group finds that children, especially those younger than 7, show little evidence of altered size perception on a task called the Ebbinghaus illusion.

“When visual context is misleading, adults literally see the world less accurately than they did as children,” Doherty says.

This pattern holds for Scottish children and adults in the new study as well as for Japanese children and adults who participated in other investigations conducted by Doherty’s team.

Some researchers argue that East Asians focus broadly on the context of what they see while Westerners focus narrowly on central figures. Doherty says the new findings instead indicate that adults in both Scotland and Japan can’t help but track visual context, although this tendency was stronger in the Japanese adults.

Other investigators have noted that children with autism don’t succumb to visual size illusions, consistent with the idea that autism involves an excessive focus on details. But visual context largely eludes all young children, not just those with autism, Doherty asserts.

Even if the new findings hold up, it’s still possible that further research will show that children with autism develop a susceptibility to size illusions more slowly than those without it, remarks psychologist Danielle Ropar of the University of Nottingham in England.

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