The art of science

Few subjects manage to bridge the gap between the arts and science, but when they do come together the results can be magnificent. While I would struggle to describe some of the things we’ve done as “magnificent”, loads of the simplest experiments and demonstrations of science are quite arts-and-crafty (see our chromatography experiment for a somewhat underwhelming example!).

Sometimes grown up science can be very pretty. The photos in the National Geographic, or the astronomy photographer of the year exhibition at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich are stunning. And the amazing world of electron microscope photography, so interesting and so so pretty. Here are a couple of my favourites from the Wellcome Collection:  [A: E. coli O157, credit: Debbie Marshall, Wellcome images. B: Foot and mouth disease virus structure, credit: David Stuart, Uni. Of Oxford, Wellcome Images. C: Human cancer HeLa cells, credit:  Matthew Daniels, Wellcome Images. D: Crystalline vitamin C, credit: Spike Walker, Wellcome Images. All available under the following licence].

As well as pretty pictures, there’s some science writing that definitely crosses the bridge into art! One of my personal favourites, and linked to the picture above is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Whether you have any interest in science and medicine or not, it’s a fascinating read. Detailing the life of the woman who gave us the HeLa cells in picture C above, it asks big questions about ethics, both medical and social. It gives an insight into science in the 1950s, but also cultural divides and social issues of the time. It’s the story of Henrietta, a poor black woman in Baltimore, and her family who were unaware of the difference her cells made. I highly recommend it!

Away from the art galleries and books with more than 20 pages, and back to the altogether messier world of preschool science. Girlbug was asking about clouds this week. Why do they go grey when it’s about to rain, how does the rain happen, why isn’t it snowing? I’d seen some ideas which were loosely cloud-based on the Internet somewhere, and it was half term, so out came the shaving foam!!

Girlbug proudly informed me that she used shaving foam all the time at preschool. We got a bit distracted from clouds to begin with, and Boybug looked on in horror as we dunked his precious toy cars into the foam (scene A in the picture below). He then demanded we cleaned his hands and cars instantly and stopped all this nonsense. It appears he only likes experiments on his own terms. But we persevered. 

We made some shaving foam clouds, watched them get heavy with rain (food colouring), until they could hold it no more and it started to rain (scene B). Then came a deluge as Girlbug slipped with the food colouring (scene C), then the weather settled to a drizzle (scene D).
Both kids thought that was pretty exciting, but agreed the end result was pretty (scene E) and, after a bit of whipping, looked like ice cream (scene F). Out came the bowls so that we could serve the ice cream and pretend to eat it (“PRETEND BOYBUG!!…Not in your mouth…right, let’s take that away then”). I have no photos of this part, as I was busy trying to wash Boybug’s mouth out, remove the spoon from his grip and mop the mess off the floor. I don’t advise trying that last bit at home!

See! Science can be artistic and messy and fun!


4 thoughts on “The art of science

    1. I can’t take credit for the idea, but it was pretty successful. Quick to set up, mess was quite contained (until they decided it looked like ice cream) and the kids seemed to enjoy playing 🙂 we are also at the “why” phase. Most of the time I enjoy it, but there are times when I want to scream “I don’t know!!”


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