When Art and Science meet over Mental Health

Professor David Price from the University of Edinburgh recently co-authored a book on how the brain develops. The comedian Ruby Wax is studying for a degree in Neuroscience at the University of Oxford. Together with musician Judith Owen, Ruby Wax wrote and performed the show "Losing it" about the causes and consequences of mental illness. But is a common interest in the brain and its disorders enough to meld the sciences and the arts in a profound way? Can the two together generate more powerful outcomes than either alone?

Q. David, you saw Ruby Wax and Judith Owen in "Losing it" at the Edinburgh Fringe 2011. What was the premise of their show and why is it interesting to a neuroscientist? Read more »

The Ecological Art Movement

Imagine you walk into an art gallery and a certain picture or sculpture mesmerizes you with its beauty, style and uniqueness. You cannot help but admire that piece of art. Even more, the artwork leaves you with a lasting impression, the message the artist intended to convey. Artists across the centuries were inspired to create masterpieces which not only enchant you, but challenge your way of thinking and your perception of the object or subject portrayed.

However, due to fear of public ridicule, historically only a few artists dared to question the popular opinion of their time by generating art that visualized their critical views on subjects or situations. Read more »

What do scientists need to be happy?

How much do you enjoy your place of work? Whether you love it or hate it could be influenced by its particular design and architecture. Architects shape the working environment of people. Since motivation and satisfaction of students or employees are positively correlated with higher productivity, architects are challenged to create places that link work with comfort. By purposeful designing of form, space, and ambience, they aim to develop both functional and welcoming buildings that make you look forward to Monday morning. Read more »

The sound of science


The glamour, the riches, the hordes of adoring fans… I’ve always liked the idea of being a musician. In fact, despite my complete lack of musical ability, it’s still on my list of possible careers. Unfortunately, as I now float further into a career in science, that hope is ebbing away.
Have I sold out completely? Are science and music mutually exclusive? Or is there still time for me to live the musical dream? There’s only one way to find out − through rigorous empirical investigation.

There’s a whole field devoted to the science of music, but that’s beyond the scope of this study. I’m not looking to study music scientifically. I’m thinking more along the lines of combining my quest for a Nobel with my quest for a Mercury. Read more »

Catalyis behind scientific debates

Making art out of scientific data? Surely a ridiculous notion, but the Arts Catalyst promotes the experimental and critical combination of science and art, using controversial artists’ work to spark scientific debates. The projects that the Arts Catalyst commission are as diverse as they are bizarre; from people dressed as guinea pigs in the Hunterian Museum in order to illustrate the unimportance of disability in the lives of those it affects, to the using of ice cap melting data from the Antarctic to paint landscapes. Turning data collected from tree rings, ice cap melting, space projects, indeed almost anywhere, Tom Corby creates artistic landscapes. Using the points on graphs and layering these on top of each other, before adding colour, he, and I quote, “renders important scientific information useless. But it looks pretty”. Read more »

Illusions of Grandeur

In the early sixties, Bridget Riley, an art teacher and part-time artist, was searching for a way to convey the swirling turmoil around her on canvas. The constant threat of nuclear holocaust, social revolution and psychedelic drugs produced a feverish environment that she intended to capture in her art. In her prints, dramatic compositions of black and white stripes, dots, and curves, she turned to optical illusion. Read more »

Silence is golden, and BBQ chicken-flavoured

Listening to the cinnamon-flavoured tones of a newsreader, seeing a giant rainbow when confronted with the alphabet or listening to Beethoven’s magenta and turquoise Symphony No. 9; it all sounds like a psychedelic trip you might hear about from someone in a drug-induced haze. Yet these strange sensory experiences are an everyday occurrence for one in every 2,000 people. The phenomenon of more than one cognitive pathway being activated following stimulation of a single sensory pathway is known as synaesthesia. Read more »

Is there room for two: Science or Art vs Science and Art?

“Are you left-brained or right brained?” Or does this question somewhat baffle you? You only have to refer to the beautiful imagery of the ‘Left Brain Right Brain’ advertisement campaign by Mercedes Benz to get the gist of it: “I am the left brain. I am a scientist…I am logic; I am the right brain. I am creativity…I am boundless imagination.”

This idea of ‘brain lateralisation’ originated from the ‘split-brain’ studies of the Nobel laureate Roger Sperry. In the 1960s, patients suffering from epilepsy underwent surgery to cut the corpus callosum that connects the left and right brain hemispheres to localize the spread of their seizures; in Sperry’s follow up of these patients he demonstrated that the left and right brain hemispheres specialize in different tasks. Read more »

Chemistry in a Life-Saving Industry

We all rely on medicines at some point in our lives. From common occurrences, such as reaching for the paracetamol after a wild night out on the town, to life saving chemotherapy, we often take these important drugs for granted.

Every year the pharmaceutical industry spends millions on the research and development of new drugs. So where does all this money go? A considerable portion is used to run chemical research laboratories around the world. This research often begins when a chemical compound is isolated from a natural source found to have some beneficial properties. At this point, the real job starts. Read more »

Focus Issue 10: Better Living Through Chemistry

During the 18th and 19th century, chemistry was the darling of the Enlightenment and the scientific community. Faraday’s lectures drew hundreds of attendees, and the inhalation of the latest discovery, laughing gas (nitrous oxide), was considered stylish after dinner entertainment. Out of such developments came the modern world, fully electrified, with a ready supply of general anaesthetic and fizzy water.  

But what of chemistry today? Without the awe-inspiring, unimaginably big and small scales of physics or the “what will kill me?” relevance of biology, public interest in chemistry seems diminished. That which was innovative in the 19th century has so successfully segued into our existence, it has become mundane.

2011 is the International Year of Chemistry, a celebration of all things chemical, which hopes to go some way to recapture interest and remind people about the beauty, vibrancy and charisma of this most creative science.
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