Scientific images are used to help researchers understand the chemical make-up, composition, texture, age, geology and other components of an object or material being studied.
But when viewed through the eye of an artist, these images can take on another realm of importance, that of structural, compositional and vividly colorful beauty.
Thanks to David Killick, professor of anthropology at The University of Arizona, and Kress Conservation Fellow Rachel Freer, some of the most visually astounding and scientifically important images taken at the UA have been put together as an art exhibit, which opens Nov. 8 at the Arizona State Museum.
Researchers at the UA have been using many types of imaging technologies to reveal the structure of clothing threads, such as those found in the Shroud of Turin or to view the radiation emitted from quasars obtained by scanning a portion of the sky – neither of which is accessible to the unaided human eye.
The beauty of the images lies, according to Freer, not only in their innate biological structures, geological features and the materials produced by prehistoric and historic technologies, but also in what can be learned scientifically from the objects.
"Contemporary art includes many modern technologies as processes, and the avant-garde has seen science as a subject for artistic exploration for over a century. This exhibition aims to reverse the traditional roles by presenting the science as the art," said Freer, who is finishing post-doctoral work at the Arizona State Museum.
Freer earned a master's in fine art from the Art Institute of Chicago and recently received a master's in science from the University of Rhode Island, where she studied textile technology and conservation. She specializes in the analysis and conservation of archaeological and ethnographic textiles and objects related to dress, which introduced her to the work and images being researched at the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship, or IGERT, program headed by Killick.
The IGERT program includes access to optical microscopes at the UA department of anthropology. Students use the microscopes to capture images of items they are researching such as metals, textiles or organics. "As I looked over the shoulders of the students I noticed the beautiful quality in the images being produced at 1,000 times the object's magnification," Killick said.
The IGERT program aims to train students familiar with archaeological method, theory and broad scientific techniques applicable to archaeology to acquire specialist expertise in one or more of the subfields of archaeological science.
All images selected for the exhibition were taken by students, staff and faculty of the UA and the Arizona State Museum. In a call for submissions, more than 150 images were viewed and only 30 were selected for the exhibition.
The exhibition is mounted with financial assistance from the National Science Foundation and the IGERT program.