Re­dis­cov­er­ing sci­ence

A dou­ble-bill photo ex­hi­bi­tion puts a face to no­bel Lau­re­ates and prom­i­nent malaysian sci­en­tists.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ART - By DINESH KU­MAR MAGANATHAN star2@thes­

THERE was noth­ing spe­cial about the draw­ings. Aes­thet­i­cally, they were not ap­peal­ing. Not a great feat in the artis­tic world. Leonardo da Vinci would have spurned them. Mere doo­dles they would have been to his eyes.

But not so the peo­ple who drew th­ese sketches.

They would have stood as his equals. They may not be the best of artists in the world but they are the bright­est minds on Earth.

And putting a face on th­ese No­bel Lau­re­ates, who oth­er­wise may go un­no­ticed by the masses, is Ger­man pho­tog­ra­pher Volker Ste­ger.

Ti­tled Sketches of Sci­ence: Photo Ses­sions With No­bel Lau­re­ates ( SOS), this trav­el­ling pho­to­graphic ex­hi­bi­tion, now at Ga­leri Petronas in Kuala Lumpur, was a play­ful ex­per­i­ment by Ste­ger, where he pre­sented No­bel lau­re­ates a piece of pa­per and a box of crayons and asked them to draw their dis­cov­er­ies. Then, he pho­tographed the lau­re­ates to­gether with their sketches in a very light­hearted man­ner.

In the SOS cat­a­logue, Ste­ger said, “Such a por­trait could show the Lau­re­ates and their dis­cov­er­ies in a very per­sonal way. The idea was to get some­thing spon­ta­neous. In­deed, the sketches turned out to be as varied as the No­bel Lau­re­ates who drew them.”

This ex­hi­bi­tion is a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the No­bel Mu­seum and the Foun­da­tion Lin­dau No­bel Prize Win­ners Meet­ing.

“What in­spired us with this ex­hi­bi­tion is how this con­cept al­lows the sci­en­tists to show their per­son­al­ity, which is very di­verse. When you look at the photographs, you would no­tice that all of them have one thing in com­mon. They are happy and they are play­ful.

“They deal with se­ri­ous topics but they en­joy what they do and that is the main pur­pose of this ex­hi­bi­tion,” shared Dr Ulf Larsson in a re­cent in­ter­view.

The com­mon no­tions of sci­en­tists are that of rigid­ity, repet­i­tive pro­cesses and hum­drums. Or maybe, some may go as far as Dr Frankenstein him­self. How­ever, as Ste­ger him­self pointed out, th­ese photographs show a very hu­man side of the sci­en­tists.

This ismost ev­i­dent in the pho­to­graph of Martin L. Chal­fie, who won the No­bel Prize in Chem­istry in 2008 for the dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment of the green flu­o­res­cent pro­tein, GFP.

Chal­fie is seen sit­ting up­right on the floor, hold­ing his sketch, wear­ing a ca­sual red Polo t-shirt, khakis and san­dals!

What hap­pened to proper lab at­tire one may ask, but that is ex­actly what Ste­ger wishes to dis­pel via this ex­hi­bi­tion, that sci­en­tists aren’t al­ways as how we en­vi­sion them. Amongst the 50 No­bel Lau­re­ates who are pho­tographed are Richard R. Ernst, Oliver Smithies and Martin J. Evans, whose sketch was the head of a mouse, un­der which he wrote his own name. Evans won the No­bel prize for in­tro­duc­ing spe­cific gene mod­i­fi­ca­tions in mice by the use of em­bry­onic stem cells.

Larsson, the Se­nior Cu­ra­tor of the No­bel Mu­seum where the ex­hi­bi­tion be­gan in June 2012, went on to say that be­sides hu­man­is­ing the lau­re­ates and giv­ing them a face, the ex­hi­bi­tion could also act as an ed­u­ca­tional tool.

“How do you present sci­ence? If you look at their sketches, you would re­alise that some of them are very ped­a­gog­i­cal, some are very ca­sual and some are very re­luc­tant.

“This is be­cause they may not be used to vi­su­al­is­ing their dis­cov­er­ies as op­posed to words and equa­tions. So, th­ese draw­ings can be used to make sci­ence in­ter­est­ing and ac­ces­si­ble to peo­ple, es­pe­cially the young ones,” Larsson reck­oned.

Repli­cat­ing this same con­cept in our home front is The Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) with the Faces Of Sci­ence ( FOS) ex­hi­bi­tion, which will run side by side with SOS. Purely an ini­tia­tive by ASM, the FOS en­deav- ours to recog­nise Malaysian sci­en­tists.

“We hope to show through this ex­hi­bi­tion that there are Malaysian sci­en­tists who have achieved some­thing in their field, in­ter­na­tion­ally. We also want to make sci­ence at­trac­tive and in­ter­est­ing, es­pe­cially to the young ones and in­spire them to take up sci­ence,” said Tan Sri Datuk Dr Ah­mad Ta­jud­din Ali, ASM’s pres­i­dent.

The Sketches Of Sci­ence and Faces Of Sci­ence ex­hi­bi­tion is on till Jan 31 at Ga­leri Petronas Level 3, Suria KLCC. Free ad­mis­sion. Open Tues­day-Sun­day, 10am-8pm. For more info, visit­

Goal in life: Harry W. Kroto is seen ‘kick­ing’ the carbon c-60 mol­e­cules which look like a foot­ball.

el­iz­a­beth H. black­burn used emoti­cons and sound ef­fects in her sketch.

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