Here’s an old post of mine from BrainBlog, Montreal Brain Awareness’ student run blog. Having spent a good chunk of time staring down a microscope I’ve become a big fan of neuron aesthetic. I think you’ll agree that, in the right light, the complexity of biological systems and in particular the convolutions of neural tissue, is striking. Art? I may tackle that one later.
Exactly where the threshold between Science and the Arts lies can be a touchy
subject. Like a lot of dichotomies that were once assumed to be fixed opposites, these days it’s looking more like there is a science – arts continuum. This is particularly valid in the nebulous field of neuroscience, where the overarching goal is to bring together
disciplines that study the mind and how it works – like philosophy, sociology, psychology – with fields that study the physical processes that underlie brain function – such as neurobiology, -chemistry and electrophysiology. A word to the wise: before you get into the science/arts debate with someone who studies the mind or brain, resign yourself to accepting them as a scientist – safer to keep your reservations about their place on the spectrum to yourself. (Personally, I think we should all call ourselves artists in keeping with the Latin use of “Art,” meaning skill or craft.)
While the debate rages over what should be included in the realm of “Science,” some scientists are working hard to go the other way. A number of Microscopic Art competitions have sprung up, showcasing beautiful images taken by biologists studying things too small for the human eye to see in all their glory. You may have seen the perennial scanning electron micrographs of pollen in National Geographic, but events like Olympus’ BioScapes and Nikon’s Small World Competition comprise images of many different subjects taken by many types of microscopes (the type of microscope used can drastically change the flavor of the picture). This year’s Olympus Bioscapes competition winners were announced last week [Oct 2010], and neuroscientists took 1rst, 3rd and 7th places plus some honorable mentions. Take a look here.