Beyond the Naked Eye


>>Narrator: Welcome to Arizona State Museum podcasts. Today we’re going to join a University of
Arizona art class as they visit the museum’s exhibition of scientific photographs, called “Beyond the Naked Eye: Science Reveals Nature’s Art,” with co-curator David Killick.>>Moira Geoffrion: OK, I’m going to introduce David, who is one of the co curators of this exhibition and he has some work in the show, and your co curator has work as well, right? David Killick: Yes.>>Moira: This is really an approach to art
from scientists’ perspective and there’s some really interesting imagery that will remind
you of a number of the very, very contemporary images that I’ve shown you. David Killick
is an anthropologist.>>David: Welcome. This is an exhibit with
a purpose. It has a couple of purposes. One is to satisfy those of us who took the
images, because we keep coming across images that are very striking and it seems a pity
to just keep them to ourselves. But, there’s a larger purpose to this, which
is that we try to interest people by all kinds of devious ways in science at the University of Arizona. The large part of the purpose of putting up
this exhibit is to bring in people from the schools to actually look at the images. What we’ve done is we’ve tried to choose
images that are visually striking but each of them actually has a serious scientific
story behind it. Thus these images were selected from among about 500 submitted. Most of them were taken by students, graduate students, here at the University of Arizona, a few by faculty. Our criteria for this exhibit were firstly
that the images had to be striking. Secondly, that they had to have a really good scientific story behind them. What we’re trying to get across to school
kids, mostly around Tucson, is the idea that science can be enjoyable and visually, aesthetically appealing. It’s not just boring, grinding lab work all
the time; that there’s a strong aesthetic dimension to doing science. And in that way we hope, perhaps, to interest some people who would perhaps identify themselves as being more interested in the arts in science. Kind of getting people interested in science
through the back door. Each of these pictures tells a story. And
there is art in the selection of the images, in that images like these are not just objects that you come across like a shell on the beach. That the large part of the skill of actually
making an attractive image is to know what to select from the vast mass of material that you come across in the course of a day’s work on a microscope. Not all the images are this attractive. Many
of them are tedious, boring; but, every now and then you come across something that’s worth taking the time to arrange properly, to light properly. To, for example, stain to bring out features
of interest (like those tree roots behind, those are not their natural color, those are
stained) to enhance the image. And the enhancing is not usually done for
purely artistic purposes; it’s to identify, in this case, particular tissues, to stain
them so that they show more clearly. But, that’s part of the purpose. And, Lenses for magnifying go back to the Greeks. They’re usually polished pieces of glass or quartz that are lens-shaped, eye-shaped. We have a dilemma with Greek material in that we know those pieces can magnify but we can’t necessarily prove that they were used that
way, because we also have examples of them mounted in jewelry. Certainly from Islamic times there are clear
texts describing the use of magnifiers. Eyeglasses were used in Europe certainly, there is mention
of them, from the 13th century, perhaps a little earlier. The microscope itself was invented, as far
as we know, in the 1600’s by putting together two lenses so that the first lens gathers
the image, the second lens takes the image the magnified image produced by the first lens and magnifies it further. In that sense the design of a microscope has not really changed subsequently. There have been improvements in the construction of lenses to give better images but the basic principles of an optical microscope have not change since then. There are other types of microscopes, the
black and white images like the one with the panel on that projecting wall there of three,
are taken with what’s called an electron microscope. Optical microscopes can’t magnify much above 1200 times because they’re limited by the wavelength of light. You can’t actually view
anything that’s smaller than the wavelength of light. However, electrons have a wavelength too (they’re both particles and waves). The wavelength of electrons is much, much smaller and so
you can actually use electrons to magnify up to a couple of million times. Although the images that you see there are
taken with an instrument called a scanning electron microscope which is limited to about 50,000 times. None of the pictures in this exhibit are nearly that high in magnification but the ones on the black and white pictures on the back
wall over there that look like either donuts or space aliens floating in space are magnified about 20,000 times. Those are from the work of the artist Fredrick Carder, ceramic artist who was a contemporary of, and the founder of, the Steuben art glass work. There’s a group over in Material Science here who are interested in his techniques since they were trade secrets and he never wrote
them down how he acquired the particular iridescent quality of his glazes. The folks over in Material Science were reverse engineering these, not for any profit motive, but just simply because they’re curious and trying to work out the physical principles behind the beautiful iridescence that Carder
got in his glazes. The answer is that those little particles
that you see there which are on the order of a couple of microns (a micron is millionth of a meter), they’re a couple of microns in size, are about the same wavelength as the wavelengths of some colors of the visible light spectrum. They actually interfere with light and by
subtracting particular colors from white light they cause the light to be colored. Which particular wavelengths are subtracted from the light depends on how you actually orient the glaze. As you turn the glaze, the
glaze changes color. That’s because of the phenomena of diffraction and interference that occur within this layer as the light particles interact with those
very small particles of calcium phosphate that you see in the images there. That’s an example of the kind of curiosity
of scientists who try to understand how particular phenomena arise. There are other examples of that in the exhibit. Those very colorful images to the left are some of mine and I’m a specialist in the history of ancient metallurgy. What I try to do is reconstruct ancient technologies to try and figure out how much people knew at the times that they were working, about
the properties and materials, and how the temperatures that they were able to achieve, how they designed furnaces and so on. Because they’re dead, we can’t actually ask them. They never wrote down their procedures. But we can work it out by studying the materials that they left behind. The material on top is waste slag which is
a lava like substance that is produced as a waste product from smelting furnaces. What you see there is a slice of it that’s
been mounted on a glass backing, polished flat, mounted on a glass backing and then
thinned down so that’s it’s only three hundredths of a millimeter thick. At that thickness rocks and minerals and slags are transparent to light. By viewing them in cross polarized light (those are not their natural colors, they’re produced by an interference filter called a polarization
filter) I can identify which minerals they are. Once I know that, I can reconstruct the temperatures that were used. The material below is something that you’ve all seen and in that case that’s in reflected light. It’s a 10% tin bronze: a very common
art casting material for bronze sculpture. The patterns that you see there are actually crystals inside the metal that occur as the metal cools. Crystals grow inside it. These crystals have a shape that’s called,
metallurgists call dendrites (after the Greek for tree dendros) because they have a
trunk and side branches, a very common form of crystal growth at the time. So, that’s
reconstructing ancient technology. The tree roots, these large images that you
see in the center are images of a shrub that grows in the Mohave Desert. And, they’re taken by a researcher in the Tree Ring Laboratory here at the University of Arizona which was
the place where a lot of tree ring dating and reconstruction of climate by means of
tree rings was first developed. And, the purpose of that particular project
is actually to reconstruct the history of rainfall in the Mohave Desert. And, they do
that by measuring differences in the width of the annual rings, the rings that are laid
down each year as the shrub grows. You notice that there are clearly visible
rings within that picture. And, those rings represent the growing season and then the
end of the growing season. The end of the growing season each year is marked by a darker band. And, the width of the ring is proportional to the amount of rainfall the plant has received during that time. And so, these very thin slices of roots from
these shrubs have been stained in order to bring out the contrast between the wood that was laid down during the growing season and the dense wood that marks the winter, it’s
when growth slows down and results in denser wood, and then photographed. And after being photographed, the widths of
those particular rings will be measured and then converted by a mathematical formula to the amount of rain that the plant received in each of those years. The pictures to the right of that, the ones
of those rock fragments, those come out of pot sherds, ancient pot sherds from archaeological sites. And, the purpose of looking at those is to
tell where the pot was made. These remnants that are left behind, these rock fragments,
can be matched to a geological map that shows where a particular rock outcrops occur. If you find a pot sherd that has a particular
rock type that doesn’t occur in the area where the pot sherd was found, you can sit down
with a geological map and find out how far away the nearest outcrop of that particular
rock occurs. What else do we have? Over there the pictures of the textile that you see there. On the bottom are two pictures of the textile beautifully lit by my co curator, Rachael Freer, who’s a textile conservator here in
the Arizona State Museum. And, the picture above is of fibers pulled
out of that small piece of textile, again photographed in cross polarized light. The purpose of doing that is to actually identify what fiber this particular textile was made from, whether it’s cotton or linen or wool.
Different fibers can be identified under the microscope. This is a particularly famous textile. It’s
called the Shroud of Turin. It’s a narrow but very long piece of white cloth, which
is stained by the image of a body, that supposedly had been wrapped diagonally around the body of Christ. And, the body was supposed to have been oiled after death. And, by wrapping the shroud around the body, the body has picked up the imprint of the oil on this, and other body fluids, blood stains and so on off the body. And, if you actually reconstruct the image,
you can’t see it immediately because it’s on this diagonally long piece of cloth. If you reconstruct the image, it appears to
show a body of a man wearing a crown of thorns. And, this shroud has been venerated by Catholics for centuries. It’s in the cathedral in Turin, Italy. But, many people have suspected that it’s
a fake because there’s no mention of it before the 13th century when it suddenly appears
in Europe. And, this was a time when there was intense trafficking in relics. Many of the gothic cathedrals that were then being built in Europe wanted to have relics of Christ or the Saints to draw pilgrims to
their particular cathedrals. And, there was a kind of mania, collecting
mania, in which cathedrals were able, were paying absurd prices for things that were
supposed to be genuine bits of the body of St. Paul or Jesus or anyone else. However, many Catholics do believe that this is an authentic relic. Other images that are in here… The blue
ones that you see over there with the red dots in them, that’s not actually an optical
image. That’s not something you could see with a microscope or a telescope or anything because those are radio waves. They’re coming in from deep space. They are the radio emissions produced by quasars in deep space. And, they were submitted to this by an astronomer. They’ve been converted to a color image through a computer program which represents the intensity of radio waves on a spatial grid in a portion of the sky as variations in color. The not terribly attractive pictures that
you see on the right are simply there for historical importance. They were taken by
researchers here in Tucson before the University of Arizona was even founded. They date to 1880. And, they’re some of the earliest examples that we have, from this portion of the world anyway, of photography
through the microscope. Back then they were taken on film, of course, and not digital. And, the films of the time were so slow that those are probably around 10 or 20 minute exposures. So, they would have to have kept the microscope very, very still for a long time to actually get any pictures at all. So, the fact that those are not terribly well
exposed or printed has to be forgiven given the technical difficulties that they were facing at the time. They’re part of the collection of the Museum of Creative Photography and were lent to us, or actually reprinted for this exhibit. Any questions?>>Moira: I was saying to Dave earlier that
there’s a really interesting kind of co relationship between scientists who spend a lot of time
looking through microscopes, or probably any scientist, because really what you’re doing
is taking a leap of faith. You get an idea then you’ve got to try and
prove it. And, that’s what art is whether it’s visual
or music or performance and so on, is you come up with an idea based on a lot of research. As you said, a lot of deadly images you have to look at to get these gems. The same in art, you know, you’ve got to draw the same thing over and over and over before you figure out how to do it. And then, you can make the wondrous leap or your imagination can extend beyond what the average imagination would come up with. And, science is so much of that.>>David: Science is so varied. I mean, there are different types of scientists. I’m not in the least mathematical. I couldn’t do calculus to save my life. But, I’m very visual. I have an extraordinarily good visual memory. I’ve gravitated toward a branch of science
that lets me use that visual memory. Because in trying to identify, for example,
minerals in a slag or a rock or a metal like that, I have to go through a visual file of
reference materials of what hundreds of minerals look like. Granted, I can look them up if I want to in
reference materials, but it’s easier and quicker if you actually have those things in your
head. So, that’s a different actual facility. There are all kinds of different intellectual
abilities and you can gravitate to one or the other. I mean, to the more mathematical ones, to chemistry which requires a lot of computational power, or to branches like these which rely very much upon the interpretation of images. What we’re doing here is essentially pattern recognition. You recognize patterns and compare them with materials that were created under known conditions and from that you draw your scientific conclusions. So, science is very, very varied. And, you
know, I’ve gravitated to a branch of science that, to be honest, I do it in large part
because I find the images rewarding. However, science can be very dull sometimes.
But, every now and then you come across an image that just sort of pops out at you from
the microscope and that’s the reward for hours of tedious labor.>>Moira: Well, thanks, David.>>David: You’re welcome. Moira: That was great. Thank you for joining us for Arizona State
Museum’s podcasts. Please visit our website: statemuseum.arizona.edu
for a complete transcript of this episode.

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