14 November 2012

Soup spots

In the course of some research for *an unspecified thing* I'm writing, I revisited Stanley Miller's original prebiotic soup paper. You know, the classic, origin of life experiment where he mixes up a bunch of chemicals in a flask and gets amino acids? I've talked about it here before. Anyway, I really liked the undergraduate-writing-a-lab-report quality of the images. Here's figure 2. Hand-labelled soup spots... awww.

Image: Science (1953)

9 November 2012

Osborne / Hume / Science / Art

“The same age which produces great philosophers and politicians, renowned generals and poets, usually abounds with skilful weavers and ship-carpenters. We cannot reasonably expect that a piece of woollen cloth will be wrought to perfection in a nation which is ignorant of astronomy.”
Thoughtful, this morning, after reading that Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne quoted the 18th century philosopher David Hume in his speech to the Royal Society. The above quote is from the essay Of Refinement in the Arts, which focuses primarily on the fine balance between luxury and morality in an industrious nation, but also considers the relationship between science and the arts.
"The spirit of the age affects all the arts; and the minds of men, being once roused from their lethargy, and put into a fermentation, turn themselves on all sides, and carry improvements into every art and science."
I enjoy the idea that cloth-making is in some way related to the study of the stars. But I also like to remind myself - and possibly Hume felt this way too - that it works both ways between science and the arts. Not only is a more knowledgeable, more technologically advanced world one in which we are more likely to produce great art, a world where great art is produced is also one in which opening our minds to thinking creatively allows us to make great leaps in science.

8 November 2012

Conversation about conservation

Whilst putting together an article about art conservation for Chemistry World, I spoke to Paul Whitmore, Director of the Art Conservation Research Center at Carnegie Mellon. We got to talking about his work on some Mark Rothko paintings - if you remember, Rothko was in the news recently because of this. Some of it got a bit off-topic (the article was really a careers piece) but I was so interested in the story behind the paintings that I decided to post a few minutes of our chat here, with permission from the magazine.

I did the interview before the Rothko vandalism news broke, without any intention of publishing the audio, so that explains both my ignorance about Rothko and the slightly dodgy sound quality. The faded paintings Paul talks about are murals that were created for the Holyoke Center at Harvard University in the 1960s. The Harvard Art Museums wanted put them on display after a period in storage so it was Paul's job to work out why they had faded so badly in the first place and whether exhibiting them again would extinguish what little colour was left.


Paul also talks about how modern artists use all kinds of odd materials to create their artworks, and the problems this causes for the conservators who are trying to look after them.

Perhaps I should also mention that I've known James White, who is featured in the same article, for many years. We're both self-employed so we've often talked about what life is like as a freelancer. But it was great to find out more about his conservation work and see his pictures in print.