I often wrote about science and art for sciencefriday.com. Below are a few of my favorites stories. 



ScienceFriday.com  Feb. 23, 2013

Petri Culture

by Annette Heist

It’s easy to see why artist Klari Reis describes her San Francisco studio as “sort of laboratory-like.” Wearing a Tyvek suit and a "massive" respirator, Reis works under controlled temperature and humidity conditions, painting forms inspired by microbiology onto a lab bench staple—disposable, plastic Petri dishes. 

The hazmat gear is necessary because Reis's paint is actually a two-part epoxy polymer, colored with industrial dyes. She describes it as a thick plastic similar to a resin but more rubbery. 

"It's typically used to seal cement for that 'very shiny floor' look. It's not something you would pick up at the art supply store. Most of my materials are sort of...odd, which I like," Reis says with a laugh. 

The idea for her Petri dish paintings came to Reis more than 10 years ago, when she was in her early 20s. She became ill with Crohn's disease and was hospitalized while she was a grad student in London. As a patient at King's College Hospital, her doctor allowed her to come in to the lab and look at her own cells under a microscope.  

“I found it really inspiring, being able to actually look at my own cells and see my cells reacting differently to different pharmaceuticals,” she says.

Her aim isn’t to faithfully recreate what she has seen under the microscope, but to evoke those cells and reactions in a colorful and visually interesting way. “For many years I really tried to copy exactly what was happening,” says Reis. “But these days I just am inspired by those images and don’t really try to copy as much.”

Reis paints three sizes of the dishes and assembles them into groups of 30, 60, or 150 plastic plates. Each installation is called “Hypochondria.” She has created works for clients including Microsoft and Royal Caribbean. Reis also displays the individual works on her blog The Daily Dish.

“I’m always working on them,” Reis says. “It takes a couple weeks to make each dish, because there’s drying time and  layers involved. I work on quite a few at a time.” You can see more of Reis’s art, including paintings of maps and cellular structures on aluminum and wood panels, at her website.



ScienceFriday.com Feb. 7. 2013

Below the Feathers

by Annette Heist

Great spotted woodpecker (  Dendrocopos major  ). Left: skin removed but tail left attached. Right: skeletal. © Katrina van Grouw.

Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major). Left: skin removed but tail left attached. Right: skeletal. © Katrina van Grouw.

Thanksgiving dinner aside, the phrase "beautiful bird" might call to mind some flashy feathers. But for artist Katrina van Grouw, avian appeal is not always plume deep; it's below the surface, in the form and structure of a bird's muscles and bones. Her new book, The Unfeathered Bird (Princeton University Press, 2013), unveils that hidden, sometimes haunting, beauty. It features hundreds of drawings depicting some 200 species of birds in various stages of "undress"—that is, stripped of their feathers and skin to reveal the structures below. Accompanying text describes the birds' morphology as it relates to function and avian evolution. 

Continue reading here.

ScienceFriday.com  July 22, 2013

The One That Didn't Get Away 

by Annette Heist

Black sea bass (  Centropristis striata  ), by James Prosek

Black sea bass (Centropristis striata), by James Prosek

While studying the subjects of his newest book, artist James Prosek essentially asked the same question dozens of times: What does a fish look like as it’s pulled from the water for the last time? The answers appear in Prosek's collection of 35 life-sized paintings of Atlantic fishes, reproduced on a smaller scale in Ocean Fishes: Paintings of Saltwater Fish.

To capture the final moments of those fish—including a 750-pound bluefin tuna and a 13.5-foot-long blue marlin—Prosek angled his way onto boats fishing the waters from George's Bank to the Cape Verde Islands. Over the course of several years, he sketched, measured, and took notes and photos as fishermen (including himself) hauled in the catch. Back in his Connecticut studio, Prosek pulled his materials and memory together to recreate the way each fish appeared as it emerged from the sea, an ephemeral moment that he says cannot be captured in a photograph.

Continue reading here.