Sunday, July 26, 2009
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Cutting down a huge pine requires skill and a large crane
And the tadpoles are now either fish food or frogs.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Saturday, May 30, 2009
This spring, I've watched a particular cubic tree leaf from one of the few windows near my lab. I suppose that some might think it "cruel" to shape a tree this way; if so, you should see what artist Natalie Jeremijenko has done to her trees at Mass MoCA, or simply think of what every bonsai goes through.
Getting back to the plaza, I wonder if the "tree foraminifera" that we study would build similar monoliths if offered bricks and blocks? This is a serious scientific question: I've long held the notion that we could "train" cells to construct tiny devices. (The alternative concept that most engineers have adopted, i.e., self-assembly of components, is one of the bottlenecks, if not fallicies, of nanotechnology.) Tree foraminifera are magnificant sculptors and build micro-scale shells for a living. Why not teach them how to assemble our miniaturized goodies?
Notodendrodes antarctikos - a "tree foram" from Explorers Cove, Antarctica (photo courtesy Shawn Harper)
Since this post considers the concept of scale, we should be cautious when thinking about working at the level of foraminifera. These single-celled giants are voraceous carnivores; given the chance, they would probably trim our body parts so that we conform to their arborescent aesthetic.
And then eat us!
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Friday, May 22, 2009
Even in the company of others, bleeding hearts lack comfort. I wonder what insects see in them?
Saturday, May 9, 2009
As part of their learning experience, the younger children are usually tasked to compose "thank you" notes or drawings, which teachers then send to me. These tokens of gratitude are treasure.
It's always fun to see which stories the kids focus on. Toilets, diving, dynamite, pycnogonids, and penguins top the list. When viewing the subjects of their art, one thing that I can predict with >95% accuracy is the gender of the child.
I bet you can, too...
Monday, April 20, 2009
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
The scuba mantra "plan your dive and dive your plan" also works for setting up an art installation
Thank you Wendella!
InterfaCE was supported in part by NSF grant ANT0440769 awarded to S.S. Bowser. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the The National Science Foundation. Nor any other life form/entity.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Thinking about Claire Beynon's interpretive artwork
Dr. B, artist Chris Moran, and writing instructor Holly May
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Monday, March 23, 2009
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Monday, February 16, 2009
I study a group of single-cell organisms - the Foraminifera - that are incessantly busy. Within "foram" pseudopodia, which are the spiderweb-like projections seen in the photo below, one can watch (with a microscope) zillions of granules zipping to-and-fro; likewise, tiny particles picked up from the environment move back and forth along the pseudopodial surfaces. The rapid, bidirectional motion of these intracellular granules and surface-bound particles is a fascinating biological phenomenon I've been studying for a couple of decades now.
Watching this cellular hustle and bustle can make you feel frazzled and fried, particularly if you empathize with the foram. It has no still point in life as it prods and probes the environment for food and a mate. That is, no still point until a cell biologist enters its realm...
I recall here a critical experiment performed as part of my dissertation research back in the early 80's. The question being asked was whether or not membrane surface motility, revealed by the movement of surface-bound latex spheres, was linked to a system of cytoskeletal elements called microtubules. (I'll blog about these miniscule protein tubes at a later time.) To find out, I was treating forams with various drugs that disassemble microtubules. The logic was simple: destroy microtubules and you stop cell processes that depend on them. My colleague Jeff Travis had already shown that these anti-microtubule drugs shut down intracellular transport in forams. Would they likewise stop the motion surface-bound particles? Late one night, alone in the lab, I was ready to find out.
It takes several hours to set up these experiments and, quite frankly, they're dangerous because they involve handling tiny amounts of some very potent compounds. It is not simple work, either: nimble hands, like those of an artist, are needed to seal perfusion chambers and assemble the intricate apparatus. Also like artists, an eye for the aesthetic is needed in order to record observations in ways that colleagues will appreciate. I remember my mentor Sam McGee-Russell saying "If it looks good, mate, the results will be more convincing." My other mentor, Conly Rieder, always said "Bowser, if you want to get a job in science, you better take pretty pictures!" We'll call it effective visual communication.
The result of this experiment was yes: take away microtubules and you stop membrane surface motility. Not to be too melodramatic, but the thrill of this discovery screamed in the silence of that evening, and I'll never forget its impact on my psyche. It was a still point for me (and literally for the foram) -- an "ah-hah!" moment shared with no one until the video recordings were shown to lab mates the following morning. The question I was addressing was based on the collective wisdom of hundreds of scientists over many decades, but this experiment was mine alone. Conducted alone, at night, just the way that science was "supposed" to be done. A still point indeed.
Few things are more beautiful than gleaning basic knowledge about the workings of the natural world. To me, it defines the sublime. And revealing that truth is art.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
While we are off the ice, I'd like this blog to serve as a vehicle to comment on art/science collaboration. I'll begin with some of my (mis)perceptions:
My childhood impression was that scientists toil alone in a lab until the wee hours of night, striving for "ah hah!" moments. Solitude is something I've always been drawn toward, and a career in science seemed like my calling. But reality turned out to be far different. After 25 years as a biologist, I've learned that collaboration is the rule. I've now worked elbow-to-elbow with over 97 different scientists, and have published only two solo-authored papers; the others reflect joint efforts with these colleagues. I'm not complaining: the frantic exchange of ideas (and occasional cusses) inherent to healthy collaborative work is invigorating. And I've had enough moments of solitude doing experiments in the wee hours of night to touch my still point.
Until recently, I've harbored the impression that artists do indeed work alone in the studio, often 'till late at night, to ultimately produce a solo exhibition. (The exhibition being the art equivalent of science publications.) But is this really true? If so, it would clearly set art apart from science.
Since 2005, I've been collaborating with Claire Beynon on various art/science projects - mostly based on our joint work in Antarctica. In Albany, I've collaborated with artists Chris Moran and Elinor Mossop on related art/science ventures. This work has brought us in contact with Cynthia Pannucci and ASCI (Art & Science Collaborations, Inc.), and from these associations it has become clear that collaboration can be a powerful approach in art, just as it is in science. The Sound Still exhibition that Claire participated in a number of years ago is a good example.
Monday, February 2, 2009
Karolyn Buttle was a microscopist with the High Voltage Electron Microscope facility at the Wadsworth Center. She always had a bright smile and was eager to assist with research challenges. I learned of the severity of her illness after seeking help with an art/science project. Despite the pain she was enduring, Karolyn immersed herself in the work and within a few days we had 3-D reconstructions of silver grains; with further refinement by her colleagues, these became the basis for a stunning art installation now on display at Mass MoCA.
Karolyn was a gifted, compassionate, and courageous woman. She will be greatly missed...
Karolyn's obituary can be found here. She also developed a web site where friends can visit and share memories.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Modern science employs a well-scripted process - the scientific method - to act on curiosity. Adhering to this approach provides us with verifiable (more accurately, falsifiable) information which, in sum, has freed humanity from reliance on chance or superstition. Metaphorically, the scientific method provides us with the factual tools needed to navigate successfully the labyrinth of nature.
I wonder if the scientific method can help us explore imagined worlds, where outcomes are not necessarily the product of natural law? This question must have been asked a thousand times already. I'd love to hear from an artist who has formalized hypotheses, conducted controlled experiments, and analyzed the results with some measure of statistical significance.