University of Wisconsin-Madison undergraduate Celia Glime didn’t think she was creating a design for the 2017 Promega holiday card while doing lab work last winter for her introductory Chemistry 104 class. She was simply doing her homework.
Celia explains she was studying the progression of three chemical reactions in test tubes when she decided to take out her smartphone and snap some photos to use for her lab report. (Bonus points if you can tell from the photo what’s causing each reaction. Answers below.)
“I ended up creating an art project instead,” she says.
Celia, who at the time was considering a major in genetics and a minor in visual art, had been keeping an eye out for instances of science in real life. Her mentor on campus, Professor Ahna Skop, a geneticist and artist herself, had recently told Celia about the annual University of Wisconsin Cool Science Image Contest, sponsored by Promega. The contest aims to bring together the worlds of science and art by recognizing the technical and creative skills required to capture images or video that document science or nature.
While some may see the Art Showcase that Promega has sponsored for the past 20 years as tangential to the mission of the biotechnology company, these quarterly exhibits of local and global artists contribute to Promega’s commitment to creativity and innovation in the arts, culture and sciences. The exhibits also foster connections between members of the community that probably would not otherwise exist.
It is obvious how the show serves to advance the arts and culture, but its relationship to science is less clear. Based on my experience attending the symposium and viewing the artwork, the science at Promega benefits from this endeavor as well.
Let me begin by describing the work included in this fall’s Art Showcase, “Wis-Con-Sin.” This exhibit features three centuries of Wisconsin photographers that each created life-long photographic projects based in Wisconsin:
Charles Van Schaick (1852-1946) was a studio photographer in Black River Falls, WI who left behind nearly 6,000 glass plate negatives of mostly studio portraits (which have been featured in two books, Wisconsin Death Trip and People of the Big Voice), as well as street scenes, major events in the region, outdoor family and group photos, buildings, picnics, people and livestock.
Eugene Von Bruenchenhein (1910 – 1983) was a self-taught artist who created several thousand works including apocalyptic oil paintings, ceramic crowns and vessels, and photographs that he and his wife Marie collaborated on, staging her in provocative poses and costumes.
J. Shimon & J. Lindemann collaborated as artists since 1983, focusing on rural Wisconsin towns where they both grew up and using antiquarian cameras and printing techniques to record post-industrial settings, rural landscapes, small towns, and shifting modes of life.
When I first learned that I had won a copy of The Where, The Why and The How in the book lottery at ScienceOnline 2013, I couldn’t believe my luck. I never win anything, at least not anything that I actually want. And I wanted a copy of this book.
The book is beautiful to hold. The linen binding is beautiful, reminiscent of bygone days when book binding was a practiced art. The paper is thick and smooth, a tactile pleasure as you turn each page; the pages themselves sound substantial as you flip through the book. Even the smell of the book is delightful—bringing to mind the stacks of old books filling a great library, even though what you hold in your hand is a new work. The science paisley inside covers of the book are a delight to look at, comprising various science icons intricately woven into an astounding tapestry.
One day while reading a knitting blog I discovered in 1883 a Scottish chemist created the first “ball-and-stick” model of a molecule using knitting needles and balls of yarn. This initial ball-and-stick molecule represents the structure of sodium chloride and is constructed of knitting needles, representing the bonds, and alternating balls of blue and red yarn, representing the atoms of sodium and chloride. It’s being displayed as part of the International Year of Chemistry 2011 activities.
The chemist who created this model was Alexander Crum Brown, distinguished chemistry and professor at the University of Edinburgh, and one of his particular interests was the arrangements of atoms in molecules and the depiction of these structures. Those of us who spent countless hours poring our organic chemistry books and molecular model sets trying to understand nucleophilic attacks and SN1 and SN2 reactions have Alexander Crum Brown to thank. Those students who now use computer 3D modeling programs to accomplish the same studies (without the delight of chasing down the last nitrogen atom that has rolled off the desk and under the dresser) are also indebted to Dr. Brown.