The Tabletop Whale blog by Elanor Lutz, has a focus on scientific illustration. It is a wonderful intersection of science, math and art, such as in this beautiful animation of a muscle in motion.
October 5, 2014
January 22, 2014
My biology students are doing an exercise in genetics and heredity that requires them to combine the genes of two parents to see what their offspring might look like. They do the procedure twice — to create two kids — so they can see how the same parents can produce children who look similar but have distinct differences. To actually see what the kids look like, the students have to draw the faces of their “children”.
“I’m not going to claim that child as my own!”
I was walking through the class when I heard that. Apparently one student, who’d had a bit of art training, was paired with another student who had not.
Fortunately, I was able to convince the more practiced artist to give the rest of the class a lesson on how to draw faces. She did an awesome job; first drawing a female face and then adapting it a bit to make it look more male.
If nothing else, I tried to make sure that the other students registered the idea that proportion is important in drawing biological specimens — like faces — from real life. Just getting the proportions right made a huge difference in the quality of their drawings. The forehead region should be the largest (from the top of the head to the eyebrows), then the area between the eyebrows and the bottom of the nose, then the nose to lips, and then, finally, the region from lips to chin should be shortest. You can see the proportion lines in the picture above.
The adaptation stage, where she made the facial features more masculine, was also quite useful. The students had to think about what were typical male features and if there were a genetic basis to things like square chins.
Although all of the other students’ drawings improved markedly, including her simulated spouse’s, I don’t think my art-teaching student was absolutely happy with the end results after the one lesson. She ended up handing in two drawings of her own even though everyone else (including her partner) did one each.
However, having all the students on the same page, working with the same basic drawing methods, helped improve the heredity exercise because it reduced a lot of the variability in the pictures that resulted from different drawing styles and skill levels.
I also think that taking these interludes for art lessons are quite useful in a science class, since it emphasizes the importance of accurate observation, shapes student’s abilities to represent what they see in diagrams, and demonstrates that they can — and should — be applying the skills they learn in other classes to their sciences.
November 23, 2013
A beautiful demonstration of the interaction between detergents and fats (in milk). The food coloring acts as a tracer.
May 18, 2013
I’d had the chance to make a paperweight when my Lamplighter class had visited St. Louis a couple years ago, so I had a general idea of some of the possibilities. This time, however, I had DNA sequences on the brain, and went in with a bit of a theme in mind.
The tiles were the easiest because all you need to learn how to do was cut glass — by scoring it and using a little pliers like device to break it along the score — and then arrange the tiles of colored and clear glass on a tile. The arrangement was placed in a flat kiln, and then a day or so later, you tile would be all melted together. Pretty simple for a beginner.
There is, of course, a bit more to it than that. The way the glass is stacked can be used to create floating effects; some colors will react when melted in the kiln to give different colors; care needs to be taken to manage where bubbles show up in the cooled glass; among other things.
Since it’s easiest to make straight edged cuts in glass, I made four sets of square colored tiles — yellow, red, blue, and green — to make a nucleotide sequence based off the DNA Writer translation table (with the start and stop codons added in).
I tried something similar when making the paperweight.
Usually, you start with a blob of molten, clear glass on the end of a metal rod, and dip it into trays of colored glass shards that stick to the molten glass. You can then pull and twist the viscous glass with a large pair of tweezers to blend the colors and make pretty patterns. The twisted glass is then pushed into a blob at the end of the rod, and the whole thing encased in more clear glass.
Instead, I wanted to create a discernible pattern of colors to create a multi-colored helix of molten phenocryst-like blobs in the clear glass. I really wasn’t sure how to make it work. I though perhaps I could dip the initial glass blob into a pattern of shards and then pull it out once while twisting to get the spiral pattern. Our instructor was patient as I tried to explain my ultimate goal, and he came up with a more subtle method for making the spiral.
I laid out the short pattern of colored glass shards and carefully dipped the initial blob of clear glass into it. All the shards stuck, which was good. Then instead of pulling with tweezers, the instructor helped my gently roll the blob of glass along a metal surface at a slight downward angle. Contact with the metal cooled the tip of the glass faster than rest of the blob causing the whole thing to twist just nicely. After smoothing things with a block we covered it with more clear glass (and smoothed again), and were done.
One week later:
Working with big blobs of extremely hot glass is quite challenging, so I couldn’t replicate this on my own at the moment. I may have to take another class.
I would feel comfortable making glass beads after the one class, but mastering the art is going to take a lot of practice. The flame — created from a mix of fuel gas (propane I think) and oxygen — is quite hot, and it takes some expertise to be able to melt the glass and twirl it onto the rods to make a nice round bead. The trickiest part, however, is making little colored dots to decorate the bead. You need to melt small bits of glass for the dots, then move the bead through the flame to warm it up enough so the dot will stick to the bead while not melting the bead too much. Then you pass the bead through the flame again to set the dot. If the bead or the dot is too cool when they’re put together the dots will pop off. I had a lot of popping dots.
I was not able to get my nucleotide sequence onto a bead in the time I had, but I did at least get to make a couple beads.
May 2, 2013
A neat stop-motion movie made by manipulating individual atoms.
This is a great spark-the-imagination video because you can use it to talk about the physics of atoms and molecules, and what is temperature — they had to cool the atoms down to 4 Kelvin to keep them from moving too much.
How they did it:
More detail from Slate, and NPR:
April 23, 2012
The eye’s lens is pretty good at blocking ultra-violet light, so when Claude Monet (whose works we visited earlier this year) had the lens of his eye removed he could see a little into the ultra-violet wavelengths of light.
Monet’s story is in a free iPad book put out by the Exploratorium of San Francisco called Color Uncovered (which I have to get). Carl Zimmer has a review that includes more details about Monet and how the eye works.
April 22, 2012
Space.com has an excellent guide about the best way to observe meteor showers; dress warm; after midnight; be patient). The Lyrid meteor shower is on this week.
To take good photos of a shower you’ll need to do long exposures or get lucky. Details on the photo above here.
January 12, 2012
The New York Public Library’s website hosts a remarkable collection of Étienne Léopold Trouvelot‘s astronomical drawings by that date back to 19th century.
The beauty and detail of these illustrations are a remarkable testament to the intersection of art and science.