‘Art of Science’: UC San Diego exhibit uncovers ‘different kinds of beauty’ in research images
Nine images chosen from the university’s research data repository are on display at UCSD’s WongAvery Library, the San Diego Natural History Museum and online.
Magnifying the artistry of scientific research, the “Art of Science” exhibit curated by the UC San Diego Library has returned, with in-person viewing available at the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park and UCSD’s Sally T. WongAvery Library in La Jolla.
The exhibit — which will close Monday, Jan. 15 — also is available virtually at bit.ly/UCSDArtofScience and is free online and at the library. The Balboa Park exhibit is included with the price of museum admission.
“Art of Science” is in its third year, highlighting imagery from scientific research at UCSD and beyond.
The images are pulled from UCSD’s Research Data Collections, which has more than 40 terabytes of data from several fields of science at the university.
“One of the things we do is meet with researchers [and] collaborate with them to organize and describe their data in preparation for depositing in the repository,” said Abigail Pennington, research metadata librarian at UCSD.
This can take the form of text, audio, images and more, with the goal to make information “discoverable, accessible and reusable,” she said.
Librarians selected about 30 images from the repository to put to a public vote for the exhibit. Nine were chosen.
The range of images in “Art of Science” — from microscopy to digital models — illustrates that “there are different kinds of beauty,” Pennington said.
Only one of the nine images is edited or enhanced: “Digital Map of Coronado Beach,” which is designed to aid the study of shoreline changes in Coronado during El Niño (the pattern of ocean-surface warming in the Pacific). It was created with the remote sensing method LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging).
Librarians “used a special tool to extract a portion of that image” and used a map of the location to make the primary image “pop,” Pennington said.
She established the exhibit after arriving at the UCSD Library four years ago and realizing the images that accompany the data into the repository are amazing and fascinating, she said. “It sparked my interest.”
Simultaneously, the library developed a digital exhibit tool called Starlight. Pennington looked into using Starlight to showcase the images to the public.
“It’s about science communication, [which] plays a vital role in fostering the next generation of researchers. My hope is that the exhibit will spark curiosity and perhaps inspire future scientists and engineers and innovators.”
— Abigail Pennington, research metadata librarian at UCSD
This year’s “Art of Science” exhibit functioned a bit differently from the first two iterations, during which librarians asked campus researchers to submit images.
The change to using images in the repository was a “practical decision,” Pennington said. The first two years of the exhibit were during or coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and “people were emotionally exhausted” from the transition to largely virtual interaction, she said.
This year “was a bit of a break,” she added, but next year the contest will return to the original format of collecting submissions.
The researchers in the exhibit are asked to craft a single-line caption to accompany their image to explain the concepts behind their research “in an engaging and understandable way for non-researchers,” Pennington said.
“It’s about science communication, [which] plays a vital role in fostering the next generation of researchers,” she said. “My hope is that the exhibit will spark curiosity and perhaps inspire future scientists and engineers and innovators who may be motivated to use their knowledge and their talents and lived experiences to address the world’s challenges.”
The Natural History Museum will host three of the researchers in the exhibit during a “Nat at Night” event starting at 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15. Scott McAvoy, Jessica Davids and Stuart Sandin will each give a 10-minute talk about their image and research. Admission is included with the $24 museum ticket. To learn more, visit sdnhm.org. ◆
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