Sunday, May 29, 2016

Nebulae and Art

Nebulae are massive interstellar clouds of dust and gasses, as well as some of the most beautiful celestial objects in existence. However, the ability to see this beauty has taken significant advancement of technology, particularly in the area of telescopes.

Above is a picture taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of the Crab Nebula. The Crab Nebula is the spectacular remnant of a star exploding as a supernova. It is so huge that it takes 6 years for light to travel from one end to the other. Even though the nebula is 6,500 light years away, Japanese and Chinese astronomers were able to view its first appearance to humanity 1,000 years ago.  The same distance that prevented us from seeing it in its full glory fortunately also spared us from the destruction that comes with the energy release from a supernova.
The Hubble Space Telescope orbits above the Earth so that its atmosphere does not interfere with the view of the telescope.

In light of the newfound resplendence of nebulae, artists have created their own visions of them.
Jon Sandler, Nebula #2
Moonchilde-Stock, Lazarus Nebula

Space is a vast domain, and there is still much to be explored. Who knows what else we might find with our increasingly effective technology? Who knows what else artists might be inspired to create?


Moonchilde-Stock. "All Size Wallpapers: Lazarus Nebula Space Art Wallpaper." Lazarus Nebula Space Art. DeviantArt. Web. 29 May 2016. 

NASA. "A Giant Hubble Mosaic of the Crab Nebula." HubbleSite. 1 Dec. 2005. Web. 29 May 2016.

Newcomb, Alyssa. "What Makes the Hubble Space Telescope So Special." ABC News. ABC News Network, 24 Apr. 2015. Web. 29 May 2016.

Sandler, Jon. "Nebula #2." School of Art Art History Design University of Washington. University of Washington. Web. 29 May 2016.

Vesna, Victoria. "Space + Art." UC Online. UCLA, 2012-2013. Web. 29 May 2016. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Nanotech & Art

Nanotechnology is a relatively new form of science that has the potential to be highly beneficial, though some worry about a possible doomsday scenario. In popular culture, nanotechnology brings to mind tiny robots that could cure previous incurable diseases, or alternatively consume the entire earth to create more of themselves. The latter scenario is incredibly unlikely, but perhaps it is worth keeping in mind, since its effects would be so negative.

In reality, nanotechnology is a much broader field, and it rarely involves making tiny machines. Nanoparticles, such as those of silver, can function as antibacterial additions to clothing. The drawback is that we do not yet fully understand the effects that silver nanoparticles can have on water waste; ocean pollution is already a big problem and we do not want to make it worse. On a more positive note, the use of nanoparticles resulted in a new drug for cancer treatment, abraxane.

Nanotechnology as a field may be new, but nanoparticles have been in use for thousands of years by both man and nature. Certain geckos have nanostructures on their feet which allow them to climb walls;  blue morpho butterflies appear blue not because of blue pigment, but because they have nanostructures which manipulate light to reflect blue instead of black; lotus leaves have hydrophobic nanostructures to stay clean. Before humans even knew of the existence of atoms, humans were using nanoparticles to give stained glass windows colors that were better than those of normal pigments.

This brings us to the application of nanotechnology to art. In the past 5 years there have been major advances in printing and 3D printing. A group of scientists at the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering in Singapore accidentally discovered a way to print color images at a resolution of 100,000 dots per inch. This means that data could be stored much more efficiently. Artistically, the potential exists for both tiny works of art and works of art with incredible resolutions and complex color combinations. In the world of 3D printing there are already works of art, such as this 330x130x100 µm^3 dimensioned race car.
Vienna University of Technology
The car presumably doesn't function like a normal car... at least not yet. But the sheer level of detail is extraordinary.
Robert Steinberg
This "vase" was created by pouring a colloid onto a surface (left), then allowing it to dry and removing the excess (center). Then it was finished off by shaping it into the image of a vase (right). The "vase" was partially self-assembled, an important aspect of nanotechnology. Self-assembly and emergent properties are perhaps the easiest way to create things at a nanoscopic level.
Ghim Wei Ho
Lastly, this image of a "Nano Flower Bouquet" demonstrates the fusion of the classic artistic representation of flowers (think of all the paintings of flowers that you have seen) and the new art of nanotechnology.


Danigelis, Alyssa. "Nanoprinter Achieves Insane Resolution : DNews." Discovery News. 13 Aug. 2012. Web. 22 May 2016.

Gimzewski, Jim. "Nanotech for Artists." UC Online. Web. 22 May 2016.

Gimzewski, Jim, and Victoria Vesna. "The Nanomeme Syndrome: Blurring of Fact & Fiction in the Construction of a New Science." UCLA. Web. 22 May 2016. 

Ho, Ghim Wei. "Nano Flower Bouquet." Nanotechnology Art Gallery. Nanotechnology Now. Web. 22 May 2016.

Steinberg, Robert. Nanotechnology Art Gallery. Nanotechnology Now. Web. 22 May 2016.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Creativity and Mental Illness

A common archetype in popular culture is that of the "mad artist." The mad artist almost always suffers as a result of their condition, but also produces works which are far above what "normal" people might produce. For example, someone with bipolar disorder might have bursts of creativity during their manic phases.

Matthew Good, a rock musician, suffers from bipolar disorder.

It's easy to see how this stereotype came about. Creating something new often means thinking of things which have little basis in reality, or are outside of what is considered normal. Something original is by definition not normal, since nothing like it has come before it. From there it's easy to make the transition to the abnormal, to mental illness. Mental illness can present itself as a disconnection from reality, or as a different way of thinking.
The Persistence of Memory (1931) by Salvador Dalí is known for its surreal imagery.

Is it true, or is the relation between the two just a romanticization of mental illness? The answer lies somewhere in between. According to a 40-year study of over 1 million people, there wasn't a strong correlation between mental illness and being in a creative profession. However, there was one between having a close relative with a mental illness and being in a creative profession. One conclusion to tentatively draw from this is that some traits of mental illness are beneficial for creativity, but that full blown mental illness tends to be either a neutral factor or a hindrance. Of course, this is just an average; there are plenty of anecdotal examples of artists who are "normal" and of ones who are "crazy."

As neuroscience advances we learn more and more about the way our brains work, such as how chemicals like serotonin and dopamine affect us, or how neuron links relate to memory and thoughts. We also create new medications. How will those influence creativity and art moving into the future? Only time will tell.

Maki-e Neurons neuron art on gold leaf by Greg Dunn 
Maki-e Neurons (2012) by Greg Dunn.


Canadian Mental Health Assocation. "Bipolar Disorder, Manic Depression, Matthew Good Mental Illness." YouTube. Janwilkins2773, 21 Mar. 2009. Web. 15 May 2016.

Dalí, Salvador. The Persistence of Memory. 1931. Painting. Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.

Dunn, Greg. "Maki-e Neurons." Greg Dunn Design. 2012. Web. 15 May 2016. 

Kaufman, Scott Barry. "The Real Link Between Creativity and Mental Illness." Scientific American Blog Network. Scientific American, 03 Oct. 2013. Web. 15 May 2016.

Kyaga, Simon, Mikael Landén, Marcus Boman, Christina Hultman, Niklas Långström, and Paul Lichtenstein. Mental Illness, Suicide and Creativity: 40-Year Prospective Total Population Study. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 14 Sept. 2012. PDF.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Genetically Modifying Organisms -- A Not So New Practice

When we think of genetic modification, we usually imagine scientists carefully inserting genes into cells in a laboratory setting. But in reality, humans have been engaging in genetic modification for thousands of years -- science has only made the process easier and more direct. Consider the case of dogs, which humans have domesticated from wolves.
A wolf.
Some of the many breeds of dogs.

Wolves have been shaped by natural selection, but dogs have been shaped by humans. Many dog breeds look very different from their lupine ancestors, which can only be explained through careful breeding and selection for particular qualities by people. Sometimes this was done for practical purposes, such as herding or hunting. But in other cases the main concern was aesthetics, such as in poodles. Dog shows are essentially competitions in which animals are graded according to which have been genetically modified the 'best.'
Alba, the glowing bunny, an art project by Eduardo Kac.

So is it really different when we directly plant genes into organisms? Not really. Alba had a jellyfish gene that made her glow green under the right conditions. Yet some would say this is "playing god" and that any genetic modification is wrong. The truth is that humans have been playing with genetics for millennia, and will continue to do so. As long as we avoid abusing the animals, such as by creating animals whose genetic makeup causes them undue suffering, there isn't anything immoral about the practice. (Provided we also avoid the traps of eugenics.)


Fraser, Carolyn. "Dog Breed Chart Learn The Different Breeds." PetPictures. 17 Feb. 2016. Web. 08 May 2016

"Gray Wolf - Pictures, Facts, and Map." National Geographic Kids. National Geographic. Web. 08 May 2016.

Kac, Eduardo. "GFP BUNNY." KAC. Web. 08 May 2016.

Levy, Ellen. Defining Life: Artists Challenge Conventional Classifications. PDF.

Vesna, Victoria. "BioTech + Art Lecture Part 1." UC Online. UCLA.Web. 08 May 2016.

Midterm PDF Download