Sunday, May 29, 2016

Week 9: Space and Art

Space is an interesting concept for our perceptions of space have changed leaps and bounds throughout the passage of time. The vastness of space itself, when looking only from a local perspective, have led to ancient civilizations, such as the Greeks until end of the classical period, believing in the flat Earth model, in which Earth's shape is conceptualized to be planar or disk-shaped. Similarly, this vastness had led to historical debates on the scientific accuracy of geocentrism, where all celestial bodies are propounded to revolve around the Earth. It wasn't until the 16th century that Nicolaus Copernicus, in elaborate geometrical details, proposed his heliocentric model that resolved the issue of planetary retrograde motion. 
Copernicus's heliocentric model
All these issues can be attributed to the apparent local isotropy of space, where it appears to be uniform in all directions locally. Only when we scale things up can we observe the anisotropic effects. For example, Earth appears to be 2D when observed on its surface, but it is in fact 3D (and spherical) when observed from space. Thus, to explore space, we have to develop elaborate technologies. As Prof. Vesna mentioned in her introduction video, "space" is a subject that integrates all the topics covered, such as nanotechnology, robotics, and mathematics, in this course in a coherent manner. For example, carbon nanotubes were envisioned for the the construction of space elevators, construction of spaceships and scientific instruments used in space missions all involved knowledge in robotics etc. 
Artist's conceptualization of a space elevator

In addition, space explorations have led to a huge number of remarkable technological advancements. The Hubble Space Telescope is especially noteworthy. In addition to producing some of the most detailed visible-light images of universe, it had also recorded many observations that led to breakthroughs in astrophysics, such as accurately determining the universe's rate of expansion. This is but one aspect in which space and art are inextricably linked.
Image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope

1. "Space intro." YouTube, Web. 29 May 2016.

2. "8 space pt1 1280x720." YouTube. Web. 29 May 2016. 

3. "Heliocentrism" Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 29 May. 2016.

4. "Flat Earth" Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 29 May. 2016.

5. "Hubble Space Telescope Images" European Space Agency. N.d. Web 29 May 2016. 

6. "Weekend Walkabout - Exploring the Solar System" N.p. 29 Nov. 2014. Web. 29 May 2016. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Week 8: Nanotechnology and Art

Nanotechnology primarily involves the assembly and manipulation of function systems at the molecular scale, from anywhere between 1 to 100 nanometers. While its concept, namely synthesis of molecules by direct manipulation of atoms, were first discussed and publicized by Physicist Richard Feynman in his 1969 talk "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom", the term "nanotechnology" wasn't coined until 1974, by Japanese Professor Norio Taniguchi. Though perhaps somewhat fortuitously, the first demonstration where nanotechnology was ostensibly applied is found in the Lycurgus Cup, which was made with small proportions of gold and silver nanoparticles distributed across the cup. Due to the presence of these nanoparticules, the Cup is able to display different colors depending on whether light is passing through. 
The Lycurgus Cup: green when light shines from in front, red when from the back
Given the modern notion of nanotechnology, and the fact that the Cup is a 4th century Roman artifact, the process in which it is made remains unclear, and may therefore be accidental, with the craftsman not even being aware of the presence of gold. Nevertheless, the Lycurgus Cup remains the first piece of artwork whose roots are deeply entwined with nanotechnology. 

In Dr Gimzewski's lecture, another scientist and engineer that is notable in the history of nanotechnology is Dr Eric Drexler, who arguably wrote the first scholarly article on the topic, and is known for popularizing its potential. In his book <Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology>, Drexler pondered the idea of a molecular assembler, one that is able to assemble molecular machines of arbitrary complexity. His vision of nanotechnology , one that revolves primarily around these molecular machines, however, was deemed "naive" by Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley , who put forth a number of arguments against Drexler. Since the conclusion of the debate in 2003, there have been quite a number of successful experiments that were in fact able to synthesize machine-like molecules. A notable example would the nanocar, developed by Rice Professor James Tour to demonstrate whether fullerenes slide or roll on a metal surface. 
Nanocar rolling across a surface
Another recent discovery is the conceptualization of the carbon nanotube oscillator. In such a system, a inner nanotube structure (such as C60) is placed within an outer carbon nanotube, and is shown to able to oscillate naturally, due to the van der Waals' forces between the two. Though there are still many challenges in order to realize such conceptualizations experimentally, understanding the mechanical properties of these simple molecular systems is definitely crucial for building larger molecular machines.
Schematics of the nanotube oscillator

1. "Nanotech Jim pt 1-6." YouTube. Web. 22 May 2016.>

2. "Lycurgus Cup". Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 22 May. 2016.

3. "K. Eric Drexler". Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 22 May. 2016.

4. "Nanocars". James Tour. James Tour Group. N.d. Web 22 May 2016.<>

5. "Simulating Molecular Dynamics of Nanotube-based Structures". Yong-Wei Zhang. NUS Materials Science and Engineering. 1 Feb 2010. Web. 22 May 2016. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Week 7: Neuroscience and Art

The relation between neuroscience and art is one that's both beautiful and perplexing. It's common for one to ask questions such as "what is consciousness", or "what are dreams", but any serious attempts to answer these thought-provoking questions have to stem from knowledge in neuroscience. To this end, we looked at a single organ in this week's lecture: the human brain. 
The human brain
Neuron map
As mentioned in Prof. Vesna's video, the human brain has been the subject of scientific studies only for about a century, following the discovery of electricity and microscope. As we now understand, the brain is made up of billions of neurons each connected by synapses to thousands of other neurons, and these neurons communicate via action potential sent along long protoplasmic fibers called axons. The recognition of neurons as primary functional units in the nervous system is credited to Spanish anatomist Santiago Ramon y Cajal, who is now regarded by many as the father of modern neuroscience. Among his great discoveries is the fact that one could "read out the connection patterns between neurons by simply looking at their shapes". This tree-like structure that connects neurons is not only artistically elegant, but are also optimized to allow efficient communication between neurons. It is in this regard that Cajal refers to neurons as the "mysterious butterflies of the soul". In addition to his scientific accomplishments, Cajal was also a seen as a legendary medical artists as his hand-made depictions of the neurons highlight the delicate arborizations of the brain cells, and are still widely used for educational purposes. 
Suzanne Anker's FMRI Butterfly

Cajal's idea of the butterfly has also influenced and served as a source of inspiration for many other artists and scientists. For example, artist Suzanne Anker, in collaboration with neuroscientist Giovanni Frazzetto, initiated the Neuroculture Project which aims to examine how "modern brain science has penetrated popular culture". One of their works, the FMRI butterfly, connected beautifully to Cahal's. In that work, 15 identical brain scans are arranged on a grid overlaid with various patterns of ink blots and an identical butterfly. When looking at these overlaid brain scans, one would pick up the nuance variations between each of them that give an optical illusion as if the butterflies are different from one another. Together with Cajal's beautiful neuron maps, these works aptly capture the artistic aspect inherent in neuroscience. 


1. Vesna, Victoria. “Neurosci + Art Lectures I-III.” Youtube, Web. 14 May 2016.

2. "Neuron" Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 14 May. 2016.

3. "Santiago Ramon y Cajal" Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 14 May. 2016.

4. "Techniques Series: Creating a Molecular Brain Map". Ana. Science Exchange. 8 April 2013. Web. 14 May 2016. 

5. "Neuroculture". Giovanni Frazzetto & Suzanne Anker. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. Nov 2009. Web. 14 May 2016. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Week 6: Biotechnology and Art

While we have explored the synergy between science and art from a solely appreciative point of view in the past few weeks, the concept of biotechnology as a form of art evokes numerous controversies, particularly those that involve the manipulation of genomes. An example would be genetically-modified food, whereby food source such as crops are genetically engineered to achieve more favorable characteristics and better yield. Yet, they have been met with a slew of criticisms ranging from health concerns to issues regarding its regulations. 
Genetically modified Aporange?
Another example would be human genetic engineering, which could improve physical appearance and capabilities, metabolism, as well as analytical faculties such as memory and intelligence which were previously thought to be innate. Again, one can argue on ethical grounds that such modifications would incur unfair advantages; one could also argue that all fetus retain their right to remain genetically unmodified, and doing so violets the tenets of human rights. Nevertheless, I respect the creativity in which applications of biotechnologies are envisioned, as well as the intellectual capacity in the numerous moral debates regarding pertinent issues. Moreover, artistic creativity is inherent in all such applications, and remains to be marveled at even by the laymen. 

SymbioticA, for example, is a bioart research lab based in the University of Western Australia that looks at biology and life sciences from an artistic standpoint. It is the first school to offer Masters and PhD program in bioart, with its students obligated to pursue both art and science courses during their study. In addition, it offers a residency program for artists, designers, and architects, who will be provided laboratory access and scientific training in areas related to their fields. An example of a bioart project done by SymbioticA would be "Fish & Chips", whereby fish neurons are isolated and grown over silicon chips. When stimulated, action potential will be induced, and and then transformed into artwork, thereby essentially turning these assembled neurons into a "semi-living" artistic entity. 
An artwork created by fish neurons
Another example of a bioart would be the GFP bunny, name Alba, created by contemporary artist Eduardo Kac, in collaboration with French geneticist Louis-Marie Houdebine. The GFP protein, which were isolated from jellyfish, was inserted into Alba, and proliferated with subsequent cell divisions, resulting in fluorescence when exposed to blue light.

GFP Bunny: Alba
While the ethical issues inherent in such artworks are apparent, since lifeforms are manipulated without consent, we should nevertheless acknowledge the power of science and technology in such creations. 


1. Vesna, Victoria, “BioTech Art Lectures I-V.” Youtube, Web. 8 May 2016.

2. "Fish & Chips" Georgia Institute of Technology. N.d. Web. 8 May 2016

3. "Ars Electronica Festival 2001". Ars Electronica. 4 Feb 2011. Web. 8 May 2016. 

4. "Symbiotica" Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 8 May. 2016.

5. "GFP Bunny", Eduardo Kac, N.p., N.d. Web. 8 May 2016. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Event 1: Petersen Automotive Museum

When I first went to LACMA in my junior year, the Petersen Automotive Museum, located right opposite LACMA, was still under renovation and I had no idea what that was. It wasn't until April this year that, coincidentally, a friend of mine invited me to join him for a museum visit. Needless to say, it came as a great surprise that the museum in question was the Petersen Automotive Museum. Having undergone a $90 million renovation in 2015 with its exterior designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, one of the largest architectural firms in the world, and interior designed by The Scenic Route, the building itself proved to a masterful piece of art.
Petersen Automotive Museum
The Museum has a total of three floors excluding the basement level in which it keeps about half of it collection. Unfortunately, the collection at the basement level is not usually for public exhibition. The ground floor of the Museum showcases a wide variety of extravagant historical automobiles that are refurbished for exhibition. When I first stepped into the building, the 1925 Royce Royce Phantom immediately caught my attention. The Phantom 1 series were introduced in 1925, and it came with a Hooper Cabriolet body, with is most distinctively identified by its squarish body. However, the Phantom 1 on display at Petersen has undergone extensive makeovers from time to time, with it curvy structure and well-polished surface evoking a modern sense of beauty. Such handicraft further attests to advances in manufacturing technology, in which precision in manufacturing has improved leaps and bounds compared to the past.
Rolls Royce Phantom on display
The second floor, on the other hand, focuses on industrial engineering in which cars are manufactured for design and performance. In particular, one is introduced to different steps in the manufacturing of the car, and these see-through displays (such as the following) provide visual aids for better understanding of the car's interior. 
Car's interior
Lastly, the third floor focuses on the history of automobiles, with particular emphasis on the local car culture. In addition, several notable cars that appeared in movies are in this section of the museum, including Batman's infamous Batmobile and the Aston Martin DB5 from the James Bond film: Skyfall.
Aston Martin from Skyfall
Other cars on the third floor

An obvious point to note from these displays is that car designs have vastly changed from the past to present. In the past, cars in general were squarish in appearance, including luxury brands like Royce Rolls, with its squarish Hooper Cabriolet body. Yet as we move from the 30s to the 50s, car manufacturers gradually incorporate curves into their designs, giving them a 'roundish' appearance, such as the yellow car in the photo above. Modern cars, on the other hand, rarely have sharp edges, and squarish designs have mostly become obsolete in modern designs. This is not so much a matter of the changing perspective of what constitutes beauty between the past and present, but is more associated with technological advances that drive the evolution of cars. The metalworking techniques in the past simply could not economically produce parts in the precision and quantity required. Such changes thereby highlight the importance of technology in art, since the lack of the former places severely restrictions in which forms art may take. Mathematical principles are also increasingly employed in car production and designs. The front design of the Aston Martin, for example, conforms to the shape of an ellipse, whereas there are no geometrical structures that cars in the past (such as the yellow car) correspond to. 

Far from the polarization of the two cultures that CP Snow wrote in his famous essay, synergy between art, science, and technology is evident in the production and design of cars. I would definitely recommend this exhibition to the rest of my peers, as it was indeed an eye-opening experience for me to learn about the history and development of cars. Lastly, let me end my post with a photo of myself at the event :D



"Petersen Automotive Museum" Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. Web. 3 May. 2016.

"Petersen Automotive Museum gets $100 million gift from founders" Mark Vaughn. Autoweek. 25 Apr. 2011. Web. 3 May 2016.