“When Art Meets Science,” a Tea Talk Review

Author: Kat Feng

Tea Talk Tuesday is a platform for graduate students at UCSC to come together and listen to each other speak about their research in STEM and related fields. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. More and more, another term has been on the rise: STEAM. That is STEM plus Art. At Scientific Slug, we have a wonderful symbiosis between art and science. David Harris, MFA candidate in Digital Arts and New Media, our 5th Tea Talk speaker for Fall 2015, is dedicated to our cause of bridging the two domains.

David started out in a PhD in theoretical physics and then moved into science communication before further working on the design and making of art. He brought up the question, “How compatible are science and art?” We can think of all the differences that separate these human endeavors into distinct academic divisions, but I think physicist Richard Feynman’s discussion in the following video summarizes the conflict pretty well, at least from a scientist’s perspective.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRmbwczTC6E]

So where do we go from there? David’s key research question is, “Can one make art that is credible to both scientists and artists?” Throughout his talk, he gave examples of what he has created. Charlie’s Bear, for instance, is a teddy bear that uses radio proximity sensors to locate objects and play customized sounds related to the objects. It was designed for his nephew who has cerebral palsy and poor vision, so that he and other children may explore the world through other senses.

My personal favorite from his portfolio is the “Standard Model of Cocktail Physics.” The Standard Model of particle physics describes a set of fundamental particles that make up this universe. Different combinations of particles create different things, so David and a few colleagues mapped these particles to essential cocktail ingredients such as ice, vodka, coke, soda, and so on. When you combine particles to make another particle, you’re combining ingredients to create a cocktail. This was a graphic design piece and also performance piece, where he whipped up cocktails to serve to others.

What I appreciate of his work is how the interaction between art and science offer new perspectives. Changes in viewpoints have always moved science along, and – well, my art history knowledge is quite limited – there actually was a point when perspective wasn’t employed in art. David also described something profound about his process. Often, you start with an idea, but when you get around to doing it, what you end up with is likely something different than you had imagined. That is a part of art and it is a part of science, as I am learning through my own research.

You can check out more of David’s work at his website, www.sciartica.net, and experience the content that took the audience out of the STEM bubble and into the world of STEAM.

What are some of the most memorable collaborations of art and science you have encountered?

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