The Art of Science: Voyage Redux, with bonus!

Michele Banks, Micro/Macro 3, Ink on Mylar,  2013
Michele Banks, Micro/Macro 3, Ink on Mylar, 2013

Voyage of Discovery, an art exhibition I created together with Jessica Beels and Ellyn Weiss, will reopen on Thursday for a two-month run at the McLean Project for the Arts in McLean, VA.

The artwork in Voyage of Discovery has its roots in the idea of a journey of scientific exploration, in the tradition of Darwin, Wallace, and the thousands of scientists who constantly travel the globe in search of new findings. This imaginary voyage takes viewers to a polar region where the iconic, seemingly eternal, landscape of ice and snow is in profound and rapid transition due to climate change.

The pieces in the show – ranging from ink paintings to wire and paper and wax sculptures to a massive 30 foot fabric installation – reflect our artistic responses to the transformation of land and sea as the planet warms. The show looks at many aspects of climate change – not only the obvious, like the melting of glaciers and the thawing of permafrost, but also more subtle effects, like the movement of previously unknown species and microbes into the Arctic and the dramatic shift of the color of the land from white to green to black.

Voyage of Discovery, which ran for 5 months at the American Association for the Advancement of Science earlier this year, will open with a reception and gallery talk this Thursday, from 7-9 pm, at the McLean Project for the Arts’ Emerson Gallery, at 1234 Ingleside Avenue in McLean. (details here)

As a special bonus for science fans, the reception takes place on the same day that renowned science writers Carl Zimmer and Sam Kean are speaking in the same building as part of “Fall for the Book”. Their talk starts at 7:30.  So if you arrive at 7, you can take in the art, have a glass of wine, and then go downstairs and hear more about some fascinating science. Win-win.

Great Barrier Reef

IMG_8468Are there places where science tourists shouldn’t go? Sometimes, visiting a destination also affects that destination. In a forest, it’s easy to minimize the damage: stay on the paths, pick up garbage, don’t scare the animals. But what if the place you want to visit is delicate, and has no paths to stay on – like a coral reef?

The Great Barrier Reef runs along the coast of Queensland and is the largest “superorganism” on earth (It can be seen from space, but, honestly, what can’t be seen from space these days). Even though it’s quite a distance from shore, it’s visited yearly by more than a million tourists and brings in several billion dollars each year. Continue reading “Great Barrier Reef”

The Dubiosity Scale

Scientists like classification schemes and, especially, the jargon that comes along with them. Of course, this in part due to the fact that such schemes allow us to flex our intellectual vanity through the ritual abuse of dead languages. More legitimately, classification schemes and terms that are agreed upon within a particular field increase both the ease and precision of communication.

At the moment, I am writing at my patio table, peering with some concern (due to the threat to my ripening raspberries) at a bird hopping around the back garden. This bird is all black, with a relatively straight black beak; it is larger than a sparrow, but smaller than an eagle; and, as mentioned above, moves on the ground by hopping. Alternatively, I could communicate all that information, probably with even greater accuracy, by making use of our shared vocabulary for bird classification and tell you that I am looking at a carrion crow. Two words not only substitute for a tedious, run-on sentence of description, but also reduce confusion about the bird’s characteristics.

Good classification schemes summarize significant amounts of information by identifying many definitive characteristics through classification. Bad classification schemes convey no additional information other than the classification group.
Continue reading “The Dubiosity Scale”

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