16 July 2011

And we wonder where the women scientists are...

As reported by the Council of Graduate Schools, care of the Ph.D. Completion Project...
* Women comprise only slightly more than one third of PhD students at large American research universities.
* Women in STEM fields complete their PhDs at notably lower rates -- somewhere between seven and nine percent -- than men.

As overheard by me, care of two female STEM graduate students on the patio of a local coffee shop...
"Do you know what her P.I. said?"
"No. What?"
"'After everything we've done for her, I can't believe she's pregnant.'"

26 June 2011

Edible Art and Science

Wedding cake by MOF Philippe Rigollot
(Press photo courtesy of Kings Of Pastry)
These are not the frosting flowers from the bakery counter and they are certainly not the botched edibles from Cake Wreckes....

If you have been following the recent “art and science” posts here on Somewhere Between, you might enjoy a 2009 documentary I watched on the public television last night.

Kings of Pastry is a ninety-minute film that chronicles the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Craftsman of France) or “MOF” competition among the best-of-the-best-of-the-best pastry chefs in France. Unlike other competitions, though, entrants in this event are not in competition with each other: any and all (or none) of the entrants can win a MOF metal in a given year.

These master chefs compete against themselves and, basically, gravity. Over the course of the three-day event, bakers and confectioners produce delicate, beautifully sculptured, and towering creations – all of them entirely edible. In the process, they have to carefully monitor cooking temperature, variation in ingredients, and environmental factors. (“Humidity is the enemy of sugar!”)

As I watched in awe, I turned to my wife and said, “Talk about art and science….”

Kings of Pastry – in addition to telling a very charming story of gastronomical glory and bittersweet heartbreak – offers a lesson I have recently overlooked. That is, appreciating the art and science in everything we do rather than merely the science in art or the art in science. The sheer complexity of chemistry, physics, and artistry involved in these MOF creations is staggering. You simply need to realize it's all there.

It’s funny that, under the slightest scrutiny, the divisions between various disciplines and crafts will melt like butter. And I could not agree more with French President Nicholas Sarkozy who, as the start of the film, declares his wish to rid France of the “morally scandalous” notion that “there are two forms of intelligence.” The MOF competitors and their masterpieces are a testament to the blending of knowledge, art, and dynamic skill.

Check your local PBS listings, visit the film’s website, or make room for Kings of Pastry on your Netflix queue.

Trust me… c’est delicieux!

24 June 2011

Portrait of an Artist as a Young Scientist: A Guest Post

While drafting a recent post about a very cool senior thesis by a young artist at MIAD, I discussed the question of art and science (rather than art verses science) with my wife, Kira. She is an architect by training and will be starting a graduate program in architecture at the University of Washington in Seattle this fall. She had some really interesting comments about the similar creative conceptual rigor demanded by both art and science but there was no way I could work all of this into my previous post. Instead, I asked her to write her own guest post. 

So, without further ado, please give it up for my thoughtful, talented, and much better half….

I am a sucker for science. Nothing excites me more than trying to comprehend something as massive as the universe. I am easily entranced by DNA diagrams. I love reading about species long extinct. Call it geeky or nerdy... I’m fine with that.

The thing is, I am definitely not a scientist. I am a designer.

Somewhere between partial differential equations and linear algebra, my aptitude for the math required to devote serious study to science reached a plateau. Fortunately, I had learned enough to capably continue with my design studies in architecture. Nevertheless, I still peruse the periodic table, indulge in learning about string theory, and feast on new photos of the Large Hadron Collider.

Art and science are often portrayed as the north and south poles of academia—distant extremes. But, as someone who enjoys both of these areas, I can tell you that this portrayal is a shallow interpretation of two vast and complex disciplines.

09 June 2011

Excuse Me, Miss... There's Some Science in My Art

“Give the STEMers some credit,” I said in a recent post. There is a lot more to science and engineering than formulae and schematics. Working in a lab and developing new technologies requires artistic sensibility, dynamism, and an all-around creative drive.

I was thinking about this – art in science – when I visited the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design last month.

My cousin (the wildly talented Molly Radke) recently graduated from the MIAD with a degree in communication design and my wife and I wanted to see her senior exhibit. It was great fun. My son loved the colors and textures. My wife enjoyed being back amongst her people – artists and designers. And I found the experience very interesting from an education perspective. Seeing the culmination of a fine arts education on display was an opportunity to think about the multiple pathways to a successful postsecondary education.

But, I digress.

As we left the gallery, I noticed an impressive project done by a young animator and illustrator named Kaycie D. Her thesis was titled Elements. In its full glory, Elements is a complete representation of the first eighty-eight elements (hydrogen through radium) on the periodic table with each element represented by an animated character.

ELEMENTS by Kaycie D.

Pretty cool, right?

The full arrangement of characters is really eye-catching. But, more impressive still, the individual graphics do a great job of giving each element a face and personality. In a sense, Kaycie D had made the same argument I was making about bringing creativity into science – but in reverse. She brought science into her art. I loved it.

28 May 2011

Will Chancellor Martin Make Peace?

Photo by Eric E. Johnson
The Wisconsin State Journal reported yesterday that the proposal to split UW-Madison from the University of Wisconsin System is, for all intents and purposes, dead. Several key legislators have publicly stated that the proposal will be stripped from the biennial budget and the Madison campus will remain a part of the greater University of Wisconsin.


Thankfully, Chancellor Martin appears to be accepting this development with some dignity (rather than accepting a better paying position at another university, for example, and suggesting on her way out the door that this is what happens when people don’t listen to her). In response to the legislators who claim to remain interested in administrative reform, Chancellor Martin said, “I'm focused on ensuring that these flexibilities, as we call them, that all the campuses get are actually still meaningful when the vote is taken.”

Did you catch that? Yes, she said it. All campuses.

It’s about friggin’ time.