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Art, science professors collaborate for ‘Surprising Realities’ series

Surprising Realities: the Art of Science at Providence College is a year-long series of exhibitions and events highlighting the aesthetics of scientific discovery.

Sponsored by the Department of Art and Art History, the series allows viewers to consider how images are used in scientific research.

The title exhibition, Surprising Realities, features images, video, and animations from 10 professors from the College’s departments of biology and chemistry. It will run through March 21 in the Hunt-Cavanagh Gallery. For example, it includes photographs and DNA comparisons of flower variations (above), the research of Dr. Maia F. Bailey, assistant professor of biology, as well as an interactive animation of a molecule in solution by Dr. Christopher M. Laperle, associate professor of chemistry (below).

“We’re trying to show the visual component [of their research] and have it be an art object itself,” said Sara Young, gallery curator.

In addition to the exhibition, a publication addresses the intersection of art and science. Each image for the exhibition is accompanied by a statement from the scientist about its research findings and a response from an artist or art historian regarding its aesthetic appeal and visual references.

The collaboration has been powerful, Young said.

“We’re learning so much about scientific process and new methods of visualization of data and research, and they’re learning so much about modes of display,” she said of the faculty in the two disciplines.

Usually, scientists focus on the information their images convey. “Everything you see in there is useful knowledge,” said Bailey, an evolutionary biologist.

Preparing work for the Surprising Realities show was a unique exercise. “It really reminds you that these are visual objects and can be recontexualized on their own,” she said. “They really have a different strength that comes out.”

In addition to the exhibits, the art and art history department will host a panel discussion and screening of The Secret of Photo 51, a NOVA documentary about Rosalind Franklin’s contributions to the discovery of DNA, on March 20.

Also as part of the series, the Department of Biology will present microscope workshops during Alumni & Family Weekend on February 15.

—  Liz F. Kay

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