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Wednesday, 28 February, 2001, 12:07 GMT
Beautiful science inspires artists
David Becker / The Wellcome Trust Apoptosis in a breast cancer cell
A breast cancer cell dies [David Becker/Wellcome Trust]
By BBC News Online's Ivan Noble

Science and art are two separate worlds and never the twain shall meet.

Scientists are no more likely to pick up a paintbrush than artists are to don a white coat or peer into a microscope.

You find scientists who stain their work and, when they do, they'll use a nice shade of orange.

Denna Jones
Exhibition curator
Not so, says Denna Jones, curator of a new exhibition which puts beautiful scientific images alongside science-inspired art.

"Scientists will usually deny they are influenced by art. But you do find scientists who stain their work and you'll see that, when they do, they'll decide to use a nice shade of orange," she told BBC News Online.

Scientific inspiration

And the inspiration for the exhibition came from a book which was a bible for artists in the mid-20th Century but was written by a scientist in 1917, she said.

DA Jones, Cedar Street
Germlights by Sue Withers [DA Jones, Cedar Street]
Growth and Form can be seen at the Wellcome Trust's Two10 Gallery in London and on the internet.

It features a series of often artistically stunning stills and moving images emerging from recent biomedical research, together with works of art with unmistakable scientific influences.

Pictures of cancer cells at the moment of reproduction compete for the attention with works like "Breathe" by Rachel Chapman: a series of three giant Petri dishes containing living fungal organisms.

'Seductive and repellent'

Mark Wright's paintings - Flux, Fusion and Filter - are inspired by microscopic structures, while Sue Withers' Germlights are a series of gently illuminated, microbiologically based paintings which have to be touched to be switched on.

Kate Nobes and Mark Shipman/The Wellcome Trust
A cluster of sensory nerve cells [Kate Nobes and Mark Shipman/The Wellcome Trust]
"They are intended to be simultaneously seductive and repellent, an evocation of beauty and disgust," reads the catalogue.

Biomedical Image Awards 2001 special excellence award winners Emma Louise Dormand and Andrea Brand display their confocal image of the developing nervous system of a fruit fly embryo.

It is a fascinating microscopic structure which is helping scientists explore the way the human nervous system develops.

Beneath the surface

"We look on the surface in daily life and we don't often get the chance to look beneath. I was interested in scientists and artists who do that," Ms Jones explained.

Her inspiration was the book On Growth and Form, written by the British research scientist D'arcy Thompson in 1917.

Thompson said that all art and learning were one and that all biological phenomena could be reduced to mathematics.

In 1951, his book prompted the Institute of Contemporary Arts to stage an exhibition of then modern biomedical images and art works.

Today's exhibition continues the theme and there has been no shortage of interest.

"We're a small gallery but there's been a tremendous response so far - the catalogue has been flying off the shelves," Ms Jones said. "There's such a range of visual content - staggering colours and light - that it appeals to everyone from a child of two to a research scientist.

The exhibition is free and runs until 4 May, 2001

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