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Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Left or Right? It's a no-brainer!

Todays lesson post is Brain Function 101.  ‘Where’s the art in that?’ I hear you cry, well, friends of The Art in Science, the art is in the right side.  Okay, so that’s perhaps a little elementary, however, the brain is split into two halves, or hemispheres, and their functions really do differ...like, a lot!

Everybody has a ‘dominant side’ of the brain so before you get stuck into this post (as if you aren't already), know that, by the end, you will know which camp you can set up in; you’re a right- ,or a left-brainer and there’s no avoiding it.  

Okay, so maybe it’s not just so cut and dry.  The learning and thinking process is enhanced when both hemispheres work in a balanced way; kind of like getting two children to paint one picture, if one kid is too dominating, the other is bound to go off in a strop and will sit redundant, whimpering in the corner.  If, however, both participate equally, not only will the painting get finished, but it might even be worthy of sticking to the fridge with an RSPB fridge magnet.

Okay, child-friendly analogies aside, let’s clear up the characteristics of each side and try and work out which is you dominant side.  

Left Hemisphere
Right Hemisphere
Rational Side
Intuitive side
Analogic (sees correspondences and resemblances)
Problem solver (looks sequentially at the parts of things, not just the whole)
Problem solver (looks for patterns and configuration – uses hunches)
Draws on previous accumulated, organised information (present and past)
Draws on unbounded cluster of images and patterns (present and future)
Prefers talking and writing
Prefers drawing and tactile action
Prefers multiple choice
Prefers open-ended questions
Controls feelings
Free with their feelings and emotions
Prefers established hierarchy and authority
Prefers shared power and team responsibility
Responds to verbal instructions
Responds to images, symbols, diagrams or demonstrated instructions
Prefers math and science
Prefers ‘meaning’ (philosophy and religion)
Is practical and forms strategies
Imagination rules, presents possibilities

Whilst it’s not left=scientist, right=artist, it is clear to see that different people's minds work and respond to the world around them in quite different ways.  As far as I can see, I am skilled in all areas of both (I am ridiculously smart, AND I heart images), although if I were pushed to make a decision (stop pushing me), I would say I am probably a right-brainer but have my left brain well trained!

That is the key: whichever side of the brain you have discovered best describes your thinking and problem solving style, concentrate on the traits of the other.  Therefore, the more adept you will become at each of the 'non-dominant' traits and the better your brain will work as a unified whole (remember the kids painting?).  So my advice to you is to not invest in brain training software named after a fictional Japanese neurologist, but instead, focus on exactly what your brain needs and use its plasticity to your advantage.  You can teach an old dog new tricks (although the brain does get less neuroplastic (fact-spongey (I coined that phrase, remember the name (too many brackets? (it’s okay, it’s good practice for your left brain)))) as you age so make haste!)

Thursday, 26 August 2010

From Thread Cells to Thread Art: A Quantum Leap in Quilting

My research for this blog often takes me into unfamiliar territory but today’s blog comes to you from a place I have never even considered typing into Google’s handy search bar: The Studio Art Quilt Association  (or SAQA to the cool kids).  A group of people who bloody love making quilts!

Seriously though, these aren’t the £2 , ten tog, vac-pac quilts you pick up from a trough at the back of Asda, oh no, they are actually pretty spectacular!  In particular, I am talking about the quilts on display at the SAQA exhibition at Birmingham’s NEC, titled “Frontiers: Art meets Science”.  

The quilts are inspired by scientific theories, phenomena and photography; ‘from the harmonies of randomness to the dynamics’ of science.  The result is a collection of beautifully crafted and truly inspirational quilts that express the fundamental aspects of science alongside advanced theory in a refreshingly inexact merging of wadding and wool.

'Coleus Leaf', Susan Brubaker Knapp

'Binary Fission', Betty Busby

'Lepidoptera', Susan Brubaker Knapp.  (Based on a microscopic photograph of a Painted Lady butterfly's wing. Lepidoptera is the order of insect that includes butterflies and moths)
'Lepidoptera' detail

The exhibition runs till the end of august so if you’re quick you can have a gander yourself.  Welcome SAQA to the geek-slash-chic way of thinking!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Not for the faint of heart!

If you have ever flicked onto Channel 4 past midnight to discover an eccentric German sawing a frozen cadaver in two, then you are almost certainly familiar with the work of Gunther Von Hagens. If not, then let me introduce you:

Gunther Von Hagens is an anatomist and inventor of Plastination, a process that halts the decomposition of the body after death with the use of reactive polymers.

Through this process of preservation, which differs from conventional preservation in that the respective body parts (be it a vein, organ or entire body) are preserved from the inside out, meaning that bodies can be positioned in all manner of poses.  These exihibits explicitly reveal the biology that we have been taught since pre-school but have never been able to see in all it’s tactile beauty. 

Gunther says “When, as an anatomy assistant, I saw my first specimen embedded in a polymer block, I wondered why the polymer had been poured around the outside of the specimen as having the polymer within the specimen would stabilize it from the inside out. I could not get this question out of my mind”

...and so, like all good Mad Scientists, he experimented, made mistakes, turned the process on it's head then introduced his invention to the scientific community.

Plastination works by removing water and fats from the body and replacing them with reactive polymers*, thus depriving bacteria of what they need to survive and halting any bacterial decomposition.

(*For a full explanation of the process of plastination click here)

Gunther’s exhibitions present preserved cadavers, kicking footballs, riding horses still born babies and, tragically, babies still safely tucked inside their mothers, in galleries around the world. 

His recent work has worked more with the bodies of animals which, for me, is particularly fascinating.  The anatomy of an elephant tends not to be on the curriculum in even the very best of schools. 

I truly believe you have to see these exhibits ‘up close and personal’ (more personal than you could imagine!) to really understand their import and power to move, so if you would like to find out about upcoming exhibitions, more about the process, or even to donate your body to the Institute of Plastination upon your death (chirpy way to end the post!) check out his website.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Biology lessons on the skin

There are those with tattoos and there are those without and there is no intermediary spectrum, visible or otherwise, to bridge that gap.  There  is, however, quite an array of characters within the tattooed among us.  There are the bull dogs, the '50s pin ups, the tribal tats and the foliage clinging like an angry parasite to hairy limbs.  Then, there are those with biologically accurate sneak-peeks into the human anatomy.  Let me show you what I mean.

A person-to-be, cuddled up foetally, resting happily on that sturdy-looking pelvis before having to make the treacherous passage through it and into this light, airy world we live in. I do have one question, what part of the body is this tattoo on?  It doesn't looking like a burgeoning belly, or any stomach for that matter.  Answers on a postcard.

On the topic of the female reproductive system, what says "be mine" to a prospective suitor than finding a diagram of your womb, complete with those little walnut ovaries and dedicated fallopian tubes, greeting him on the first date (or second or third, dependent on your principles).  Has there ever been a stronger aphrodisiac? 

Likewise, opening up your heart to your loved one can become more literal than you had perhaps previously imagined!
Welcome to the gun show!  Here, ladies and gentleman, we have an arm.  Complete with tendons, ligaments and a fair amount of detail in those average-looking biceps. 

[Insert witty dodgy-hand-tattoo comment here]

This is one of my favourites!  Disappointing, however, that with all that effort he only decided to go for 22 ribs, rather than the usual 24.   He seems to have included only the 11th, and not the 12th, floating rib at the back.  Oh well, we can't all be scientists (or look it up in a primary school text book before getting it permanently inked on your skin).  He could perhaps have been making a statement; say for example he was born with the benign abnormality of having 2 less ribs than most (not uncommon) and his tattoo was an attempt to stick his mutation to the world.  Unlikely though.

This is the best picture I could find of this one but it's a nice little preview!

We'll finish with a guy/girl with a sense of humour!  A cute little kidney dangling from a kidney removal scar - way to make the most of a bad situation!!