Tag Archives: science art

Art of Science: Philip Beesley’s Sentient Chamber


Sentient Chamber, 2015, Philip Beesley Architect and Living Architecture Systems Group

I’ve written before about Philip Beesley’s immersive installations, so I was delighted to learn that the National Academies of Science was bringing one to their headquarters in Washington, DC.  Last week, I had the opportunity to see it on a special tour with Beesley, and to hear him speak on a panel at NAS that night. The installation is called Sentient Chamber, and it looks a bit like a cross between an open-air tent-style church and a ghostly Rose Parade float. Beesley describes it as an “experimental architecture and sculpture installation [which] acts as a test-bed for ongoing research that combines the disciplines of architecture and visual art, computer science and engineering, and synthetic biology.” It’s silver and white, and as you come close it clanks and beeps in a friendly way, shimmying its fronds and extending slender robotic fingers.

The main structure consists of a flexible grid made up of many triangular shaped elements in metal and plastic. Beesley explains that the shapes of the structure are based on hyperbolic geometry, which creates maximum strength from minimum materials. Above and among the arches are clusters of “acoustic and kinetic mechanisms” – microprocessor-driven fronds and branches that reach out and whirr and clank and light up when people interact with them. Fruit-like clumps of glass globes and tubes contain what Beesley describes as “the beginnings of a synthetic biology system” – oils that react to each other and to changes in the environment.


Detail view from Sentient Chamber 

Beesley is an amazing talker, ranging from the concept of a structure as a box or a “raindrop” to metal-rod cores and distributed mechatronics within a single breath. But he returns often to a central theme – the idea of a new approach to shelter that is gentle and designed to be responsive to and integrated with nature, rather than an attempt to keep natural forces at bay with thick walls and high-tech climate-control systems.

He dreams rather about building gathering places that breathe, that learn, that welcome both humans and nature, and that are resource-positive – that is, generating energy and other resources rather than just conserving them. Although his Sentient Chamber at NAS is not ready to live in – it’s full of fragile pieces and there are laptops nestled in the treetops – it conjures up tantalizingly novel ideas about how we could live in the future. If you can, go see it now.

Art of Science: Frozen Fractals All Around


A Sierpinski Triangle by Simon Beck

In the wake of snowstorm Jonas, the east coast of the US has been consumed with snow math – counting up the number of inches that fell, the miles of roads plowed, and the days of work lost – but that’s basic arithmetic compared to Simon Beck’s advanced snow mathematics.


A Mandelbrot Set in progress

For more than a decade, Beck has made elaborate designs in snow, mainly in the French Alps, using only snowshoes and a compass. He started out making mandala-like circular shapes, but moved on to much more complex designs over the years. Beck told Discovery News that he started incorporating fractal patterns into his work after reading James Gleick’s book “Chaos: Making a New Science.”

Each image takes him up to 11 hours to make, as he walks 25-30 miles to make a design of about 100 meters square.  Beck says that he started making snow art mainly as a form of exercise, but it has now become his life’s work. You can see much more at his website.


Sierpinski Circle by Simon Beck

Art of Science: Jantje Visscher’s Kuiper Belt


Jantje Visscher, Kuiper Belt, 2015, Light Sculpture

The Kuiper Belt is a vast region of space filled with “small bodies”, icy remnants of the formation of the Solar System made of compounds like methane, ammonia and water. It is also home to everyone’s favorite dwarf planet, Pluto.

Artist Jantje Visscher made a light sculpture inspired by images of the Kuiper Belt and the idea of microwaves dancing in outer space, created when the Big Bang occurred. The piece is made from drawings etched into silvery Mylar sheets that bounce light from an overhead fixture onto the wall.

Simple, beautiful and dazzling, Kuiper Belt invites viewers to reflect on the existence of celestial bodies almost unfathomably old and distant, now brought closer by both art and technology.

You can see more of Jantje Visscher’s work here.

Art of Science: Anatomical Art, in So Many Words



Beat Poetry, Digital Print, Stephen Gaeta

When cardiologist Stephen Gaeta was finishing his PhD on cardiac arrhythmias, he decided to do something more creative than just hang his diploma on the wall.  He used the words of his dissertation as create an image of an anatomical heart, which he signed with a segment of his own ekg. He later redesigned the heart using an 1809 monograph on cardiology and renamed it Beat Poetry. Since then, he has continued to create images from classic scientific texts, including an eyeball, a transgenic mouse and a set of lungs (below). The lungs feature the text of the 1628 treatise Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus (An Anatomical Exercise on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Living Beings) by William Harvey. You can read more about his work and buy prints at Street Anatomy.


Airway, Digital Print, Stephen Gaeta

Microbial Musing

Have you ever wondered what makes Michele Banks tick? Nature Microbiology did. So, they asked her. You can read their interview with Michele here and gaze upon her lovely artwork for their homepage here.

Nature Microbiology: When did you first become exposed to scientific images?

Michele Banks: I started doing watercolours about 15 years ago. I was mainly working in pure abstraction, just playing with colour and with the properties of the paint. One of the things I love to do is wet-in-wet technique, which gives a ‘bleeding’ effect. I showed some of my wet-in-wet work at the Children’s National Medical Center here in Washington DC about 10 years ago, and they told me they liked my work because it looked like things under a microscope.

We hope the interest in the overlap of science and art will be a theme that continues throughout future Nature Microbiology issues – also open access, gender balance in publishing, shying away from bogus impact factors. etc. etc…