This exhibit features images and objects drawn from a variety of disciplines and time periods that show the importance of visual experiences in science. Images have played many roles in scientific research. Images can record fleeting observations, whether a painting of an animal glimpsed in the field or an interaction between sub-atomic particles that lasts a millisecond. They can also make unseen things visible. Physical models can make abstract mathematical concepts into something that researchers can touch; properly arranged, sand, metal plates, and a violin bow can make sound waves into images. Finding patterns in both kinds of images, or painstakingly transforming images into data can lead to new discoveries.
Images also play a role in summarizing, clarifying, and communicating ideas. Compelling images have often helped people understand and accept radically new ideas, turning what might at first be a hard to understand into a new commonsense understanding. Other times, visual representations can help students develop intuitions about their subject, whether about the structure of crystals or the stages of an embryo’s development. Images can also communicate complex and layered information, such as the complete design of a steam engine, in a compact and portable format.
Looking closely at the use of images highlights the skills needed to create and interpret images. Scientists have often worked hand-in-hand with artists, sculptors, painters, and photographers. In doing so they make technical and aesthetic choices that shape the final image. Images can reveal as much about those who made them as they do about the phenomena being studied. Images can also be hard to interpret, with successful researchers developing a knack for recognizing important details and patterns.
With large scale reproduction images, three dimensional objects, and films, this exhibit offers visitors a sampling of this rich topic.