Portrait of a proton

It makes sense that the artwork hanging in the Gordon Center's third-floor atrium was created by scientists: close-up photographs of frogs and fruit flies, landscape paintings of intracellular structures, brilliantly fluorescent pictures of crystals forming, lasers firing, and electricity coursing through a leaf's veins. "Science and art both require a great deal of imagination, and they can inspire each other," says Rebecca Ayers, a fourth-year graduate student in biochemistry and molecular biology who cocurated the Gordon Center exhibit. Titled Science in Art, it gathers more than 80 works by Chicago, Fermilab, and Argonne faculty, grad students, and postdocs.

An amateur oil painter since college, Ayers first conceived the idea for the exhibit more than a year ago. This summer she enlisted the help of Lydia Bright, a painter and third-year molecular-genetics and cell-biology grad student who coran a small gallery in Burlington, Vermont, before coming to Chicago.

Alongside the paintings, drawings, photographs, and microscope images are six working clocks made by Tim Mooney, a software developer at Argonne's Advanced Photon Source. Constructed from cellophane, the clocks' faces are birefringent—they refract light into two directions—and Mooney manipulated the cellophane's polarization so that the clocks change color as the second hands rotate.

The exhibit runs through November 16. Some 300 people attended the opening in October, where scientists also provided the music, including not only jazz, rock, and techno, Ayers says, but also "the sounds of biomolecules," recorded using nuclear magnetic resonance equipment. Scientists at art openings, Bright says, are "different from other gallery visitors. Not only do they look at the art, but they want the sheet of paper; they want to know what they're looking at and who made it—and, if possible, how."


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Photos (left to right): Cocurators Lydia Bright (left) and Rebecca Ayers, seated below a painting from Bright's Boom series depicting nuclear-test explosions; Argonne physicist Bernhard Adams's image of high voltage lighting up a leaf; a detail from Ayers's painting Homology; grad student Jane Maduram's star-shaped cells, photographed during her research on cytoskeletal architecture and cell polarity; and Argonne software developer Tim Mooney's color-changing cellophane clocks.

November 14, 2007