January 25, 2011

Science + Art: more than the sum of the parts?

From physicist Chad Orzel's links dump comes a New York Times article of interest to fans of art/science fusion: "An infusion of science where the arts reign." The "Citizen Science" program basically immerses non-science majors in hands-on science work, but with some room for creative expression at the end....
While there is no final grade, there is a final project, and Ms. Batkin and six classmates came up with an idea that is pure Bard: a dance performance that illustrates how an influenza vaccine works. Students assumed the roles of the antigen, B cell, T cell and antibodies.

"We’re using rubber bands and bubbles to show the B cell alerting the T cell that there’s a foreign invader," Ms. Batkin said. "I’m narrating the process, but I am also the antibody at the end."

This sort of reminds me of a course at my alma mater, Williams College, taught by Professor of Mathematics Edward Burger. In "Exploring Creativity," students are challenged to convey core concepts of one discipline using the tools of another discipline. For example, as discussed in this Alumni Review article, students might be asked, "What is the fourth dimension? Write a two-sentence definition and then create an artistic representation of a four-dimensional object or of four-dimensional space."

What these courses and Wendy Silk's "Earth, Water, Science and Song" seem to have in common is a sense that there is meaning and value in the challenge of creatively expressing scientific and mathematical concepts. Arts-related assignments are given not because the students can't handle more traditional "hard-core" assignments, but because science and math can and should inspire singing and dancing and drawing.

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