Whoever said that you can’t learn anything useful from TV? A Harvard research team, headed by Jeff Lichtman, has duplicated the way that a television monitor uses varying amounts of just three colors (red, blue, green) to produce a huge array of resultant hues. They have applied this technique in the brain using fluorescent cyan, yellow, and red pigments–varying amounts of which can produce 90 possible color combinations to label individual neurons. Through genetic recombination, pigment-expressing genes are inserted into the genomes of developing mice. The result is the “Brainbow” mouse, whose individual neurons express the three pigments in a random pattern making it quite useful for tracing and visualizing them in later experiments.
These images, in addition to being scientifically informative, are also incredibly beautiful aesthetically. One thing that I am extremely interested in is the intersection and overlapping goals of art and science. A couple weeks ago I attended a workshop series called “Arts and Minds” led by Pulitzer prize-winning author Natalie Angier. The goal of this workshop was to bring scientists, poets, designers, artists, and students together for discussions about how the arts and sciences impact each other. For example, in one exercise, several people’s galvanic skin response was measured and displayed on a huge screen, as the entire audience listened to music. During musical pieces that had high emotional content to the listener being recorded, their skin response went crazy. This tipped off discussions as to auditory processing, how bonds were formed with music, and even picking apart the methods of the skin response apparatus.
It was amazing, and made me realize how the compartmentalization of art and science is a rather arbitrary one. Ages ago, educated people were often artists AND scientists (like Leonardo di Vinci) and the pursuit of knowledge and fact fed into their desire to understand aesthetic beauty and the creative process. I later found out that there are small grants that are available to extend the goals of Arts and Minds, if someone wanted to take the trouble to write a short proposal. So, thats just what I’m doing. The proposal’s goal is to create an interdisciplinary writing workshop between MFA students and grad students in the sciences, led under the auspices of an experienced writing teacher. There’s actually a similar initiative, on a larger scale, taking place at the Liverpool Centre for Poetry and Science. Their website is chock full of poems and essays merging science and the arts, which is exactly the type of result I’d like this proposal to have.
Reference: Livet et al. 2007. Transgenic strategies for combinatorial expression of fluorescent proteins in the nervous system. Nature. Nov 1. doi:10.1038/nature06293