Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘science’

03 DECEMBER, 2012

Berenice Abbott’s Minimalist Black-and-White Science Imagery, 1958-1960

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The abstract beauty of science, made dramatically visible.

Photographer Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) might be best-remembered for her striking black-and-white prints of New York’s changing face in the 1930s, but she was also intensely interested in science and in making the abstract elegance and beauty of science visible and concrete. In 1939, she began experimenting with scientific imagery and capturing the whimsy of physics, mathematics and chemistry in her minimalist yet dramatic black-and-white photos. Documenting Science (public library) collects the best of that work, which culminated with the Physical Science Study Project at MIT in 1958.

A Bouncing Ball in Diminishing Arcs (1958)

Behavior of Waves (1962)

Beams of Light Through Glass (1960)

Multiple Exposure of a Swinging Ball (1958)

Multiple Exposure of a Swinging Ball (1958)

Magnetism & Electricity (1958)

Collision of Two Balls (1960)

Magnetism with Key (1958)

Parabolic Mirror (1958)

Interference Pattern (1958)

The Pendulum (1960)

Documenting Science is part Mathematical Impressions, part Bee, part something entirely and timelessly original. The MIT Museum is currently showing an exhibition of Abbot’s scientific imagery, running through the end of the year.

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30 NOVEMBER, 2012

Anatomical Flap-Up Illustrations from 1901 Adapted as Animated GIFs

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Peeling away the layers of the body, over and over.

A couple of years ago, a dear friend gave me one of the most wonderful presents I’ve ever received — three pages from a rare antique anatomical textbook published in 1901, featuring gorgeous flap-up illustrations by E. J. Stanley. Each fold-out consists of three layers, peeling which reveals a different dimension of the body — from skin to muscle and bone to organ and tissue. After the success of that Victorian pop-up book, I decided to adapt the illustrations as animated GIFs, sequencing the three layers for each page.

Delightful, no?

Complement with The Human Body: What It Is And How It Works, a vibrantly illustrated vintage anatomy gem from 1959, illuminating “the highest performance machine in the world.”

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29 NOVEMBER, 2012

A Visual History of Nobel Prizes and Notable Laureates, 1901-2012

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Mapping the greatest cultural and scientific advances in modern history with inspiration from John Cage’s music.

After her wonderful visual timeline of the future based on famous fiction last week, I asked Italian information visualization designer Giorgia Lupi and her team at Accurat to create an exclusive English version of another fantastic visualization designed for La Lettura, the Sunday literary supplement of Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera — this time exploring the history of Nobel Prizes and laureates since the dawn of the awards in 1901.

Visualized for each laureate are prize category, year the prize was awarded, and age of the recipient at the time, as well as principal academic affiliations and hometown. Each dot represents a Nobel laureate, and each recipient is positioned according to the year the prize was awarded (x axis) and his or her age at the time of the award (y axis).

(Click image for hi-res version)

Also highlighted are several record-holding laureates — like Marie Curie, for instance, who endures not only as the first woman to win a Nobel Prize but also as the first person to win two Nobel Prizes, and in two different sciences at that, chemistry and physics.

What makes the visualization especially interesting is that Lupi, herself a pianist, was inspired by the work of legendary composer John Cage and the fantastic Notations 21 project. She tells me:

I love the way Cage composes the overall visual architecture of his pieces. Of course, they are functional (sheets to be played) but they are also very graceful in terms of visual beauty.

Indeed, she points out that there are a number of parallels between data visualization and Cage’s work, including non-linear storytelling, layering and hierarchies of information, a clear overall structure for each piece, a focus on overall architecture rather than individual elements, words within diagrams, and a convergence of emotive and functional beauty.

See more of Giorgia’s terrific work on her site, then complement it with some visualization lessons from the world’s top information designers and data artists.

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