At IISc, complex science gets an artistic touch

Updated - November 01, 2016 11:20 pm IST

Published - October 06, 2016 12:00 am IST - BENGALURU:

The concepts depicted through visual imagery in ‘Arting Science’ being published as a book.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the Indian Institute of Science (IISc.) is demonstrating that it can be used to explain complex scientific concepts. This is the philosophy of Arting Science , a new effort by the institute that highlights scientific work with visual imagery.

It works like this: In a laboratory of IISc.’s Department of Molecular Reproduction, Development and Genetics, professor Sandhya Visweswariah and her students are examining the role of cyclic nucleotides in mammals and in mycobacteria, and identified mechanisms that are regulated by a receptor present in the gut.

That’s complicated, so look instead at the picture. “At the bottom are the gut villi with their epithelial cells covering them and capillaries inside. The mouse image indicates the models that are used to study the role of GC-C in gut biology. The flowers above the villi represent the peptides that bind to GC-C and activate the receptor,” the team leader explains.

G.K. Ananthasuresh, Chair, IISc. Website Committee, says the method “serves the dual purpose of conveying the research outcomes of IISc. faculties using visual imagery.”

Paintings as book

The marrying of science with art has culminated in a soon to be published book, Arting Science , a compilation of artwork by the 2012–16 Bachelor of Science (Research) group. The 25 paintings in it are the result of teamwork by the 116 students, done as part of their mandatory humanities course — “Mapping India through the Folk Arts” — in their fourth semester.

“As part of the assessment for the course, I had asked them to represent a scientific concept through any visual art form of the country. They represented complex science concepts like Mendel’s law, Archimedes’ principle, Collatz conjecture, accretion, twin paradox, phagocytosis, four colour theorem, Schrodinger’s cat, Mobius strip, Ramsey’s theorem and so on, using folk arts of India such as Phad, Gond, miniature painting, Warli, Madhubani, Patachitra, Cheriyal, Sanjhi, and Sohrai,” said Bitasta Das, instructor, Humanities, IISc.

As a part of the humanities course, the students take up a different art form each year, ranging from visual, narrative or performative. “The target audience would be anyone who appreciates science and arts. The intention behind teaching this course is to make the students a bit more sensitive towards Indian multiculturalism so that these budding scientists are grounded in their social context. At the same time, every year in this course we do activities that try to bridge disciplinary boundaries,” she said.

About 1,000 copies of the book, to be printed by IISc. Press, are likely to be gifted to visitors to the institute., she said.

In parallel, the artistic talent of Tejeswini Padma, a former junior research fellow in Prof. Visweswariah’s lab, is brightening up the walls outside the lab and the IISc. website. “I read up research papers from various labs, extract key aspects and make a painting in a manner that it narrates a story, and the onlooker gets the crux of the research at one glance,” she said.

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