I had the opportunity this week to present some of my work to secondary school students, taking part in a mid-term outreach course in Trinity, co-ordinated by Dr Noelle Scully. I may talk about the outreach lecture itself at a later date (it was similar in content to our participation in Discover Research Dublin a few months ago), however the aspect of the activity I want to mention today is artist-scientist collaboration for educational purposes.
I attended a Science Gallery Seminar last week on this very topic; they have a strong track-record on bringing artists and scientists together to broaden the impact of research to the public at large. Their programmes are often ambitious, and in some cases may even be used to collect data, and indeed give new insights to the scientists. Such interactions can be of great benefit to all involved.
I am lucky enough to be friends with an artist called Sophie Longwill, whose workis always interesting and high quality and, since we are both interested in science, we have been looking for a way to collaborate for a long time. We both find our discussions about art and science to be mind-opening – she forces me to see my work from a very different perspective and her imagination and insight allows accessibility to the general public. I would encourage people from both sectors to consider what we can learn from each other.
We began by designing glass moulds together for practical applications in the lab (forming polymers into precise shapes). During Discover Research Dublin, we wanted to share some results about molecular ‘logic gate’ mimics (Chem. Commun. article can be found here) with the public, and Sophie’s illustrations really helped explain the processes involved. My favorite is the following one, which is how I now imagine my life (turning chemical inputs into data)!
These illustrations (there were many) really helped get the ideas across much more than all the graphs and tables I had prepared.
This week, we got a bit more time with the students and I decided to give them the back-story of George Boole (who was born 200 years ago last year), who became the father of mathematical logic while working in University College Cork. In order to tell his story, I reached out to Sophie again and the result was a series of images, including the one at the top of this post of a young Boole teaching himself maths without a formal education.
I present the others here now because:
- they are gorgeous engaging pictures
- they really helped the teenagers connect with this story of Irish contributions to science
The first image shows Boole’s argument with an eminent philosopher Sir William Hamilton about the usefulness of mathematics in logical discourse (about which, of course, he was correct), and the second illustrates his early death which occurred as a result of teaching a whole day’s lectures in wet clothes and poor medical treatment in the aftermath.
So, as vital as scientific collaborators can be to acquire and interpret the data we need to make our findings, I would also encourage scientists to reach out through the invisible interdisciplinary walls and work with artists to tell our stories to the widest audience possible.