10/5/2015 0 Comments
By Dianna Cowern
Back in 5th grade, my school held a competition to create art for the cover of the yearbook. Out of 300 students, my painting won. I liked to think that I was adequate at making pastel copies of Picasso, but I wouldn't say I was a talented artist. There was something unique about that painting though, something that has stayed with me throughout my career; it combined the beauty of science with art. The painting was of exoplanets and the cosmos.
Bridging the gap between science and art is not something that I was always open to. My first passions were math and science and I tended to push away activities that were purely artistic. I tried, and dropped, hula, ceramics, ballet, sculpting, acting, and painting. Then I found iMovie, Apple’s basic video-editing software.
My very first videos were of the family dogs at Christmas, but they progressed into something more personal. I was inspired by a lecture series about space with Neil deGrasse Tyson, long before Cosmos. I’d never thought of a lecture series as art until I saw the elegant way Tyson presented science and the incredible space photography he showcased. I wanted to express the wonder of science. As part of my high school senior project, I created a “science dating show” video that attempted to entertain and teach science. It was a horrible idea, but it was a start.
I kept making videos. I wanted to share what light is: electromagnetic waves! And so are microwaves, and radio waves. They’re the same thing as visible light! MIND EXPLOSION! At some point, I realized that I could combine my enthusiasm, some quirky drawings, and my love for science into one, and the video medium allowed me to do that. And creating videos is incredibly fun.
Fast-forward through a degree in physics and I now write, film and edit videos for my YouTube channel Physics Girl. For the most part, trying to convey science concepts is a logical process for me, like fitting a puzzle together. You start with the borders, laying down the basic science concepts and working up to a complex idea. Then you fill in the pieces, adding in metaphors and connections to the real world.
But there’s a decidedly creative aspect to thinking up metaphors and real-world connections—bringing out the beauty in a soap bubble, designing appealing cosmology visuals, inventing a quantum metaphor that resonates with a non-science inclined audience. There’s something very creative about trying to find the most exciting way to present abstract theories.
How could I not see the beauty, or the art in these subjects that are so connected to the universe? How could I be a communicator without expressing myself in a way that only art allows? I never thought I would create a video about vortex physics that reached 4 million people. But it turns out that art, particularly film, is an effective and important medium for communicating science. It enables communicators to reach an entirely different audience.
What I’ve come to realize is that physics is not just about the research and exploration. It's also about learning and teaching and inspiration. My teachers and the communicators I followed inspired me to pursue a degree in physics. I want to do the same for the future generation of physicists. I am fortunate to be involved in an upcoming IMAX film called the Secrets of the Universe which will explore particle physics and the LHC. I am so excited about this film because these are difficult concepts to convey, mainly because you cannot see them. The SOTU film is going to rely heavily on creative visuals. It has to be beautiful and visually appealing - a piece of art - to really connect with people. And I believe it will.
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