Communicating Science: Explorations through Science and Art

Thesis abstract:

Science and Art have a history of distinctive difference and opposing notions of experimentation. Nevertheless these ‘two cultures’, as described by C. P. Snow, have more in common than might be supposed. Both are highly creative, both are exploratory, both have flashes of brilliance. They can be a perfect complement to each other, as has been shown over the long period in which the two disciplines have influenced each other. It is surprising, therefore, that ‘scienceart’ or ‘artscience’ have not been greatly studied as a ‘third culture’.  It is in this interactive space between the disciplines that this research study is focused. It is a study of communication of science, the expression of science through art, and art through science.

Three case studies of communicating science through art are discussed in this thesis. Working in the fields of art and science together, the works in these studies used the art to express the science across sectors of the public, research organisations and scientists themselves. Each case study addresses a research question about the communication of science and in turn discusses the creation of the art to achieve this communication.  All three case studies are linked, in that each sought to communicate with different publics in different ways to convey the science behind the artworks.  The art works themselves are included as part of this thesis.

The first case study, entitled FingerCodes, concerns a series of works which use the fingerprint as a foundation for expressions of identity.  This idea is carried further with an audience of young children, to discover whether the scientific notion of a fingerprint can assist in their own expressions of identity through art. Two workshops with children are described.

The second case study, entitled Titanium Insects, describes a collaboration between a scientist and an artist to inform both the science and the art.  In this case, the art work intersects with entomological research. The case study examines the creative relationship between artist and scientist and its impact collaboratively as well as independently; how that collaboration was fruitful in facilitating an interdisciplinary approach; and the associated outcomes and benefits of such a collaboration.

This third case study, StellrScope, extends the scope and depth of science art intersection through an extensive study of wheat science innovation over one hundred years, which resulted in a public artwork in a national science museum. The question addressed in this research was whether an artist in a scientific organisation can act as a catalyst for the production of art science outreach. The thesis describes how this collaboration successfully provided an opportunity to communicate the scientific story and the research to the public.

The thesis makes recommendations for future practice and concludes with a new template which can serve as a model for similar collaborations.