12/02/05

The "Perceptions in Arts and Science: Different Faces, Same Truth" exhibit now at the Hearst Art Gallery is a fun and eye-opening show that demonstrates that science and math can literally be things of beauty.

Natural beauty has fascinated gallery director Carrie Brewster since she was young. Several years ago she conceived the idea of staging an exhibit with the help of science and math faculty that could show some of the wondrous beauty that can be found through various scientific methods. She worked closely with the professors for the past year to put together the exhibit, which was produced completely in-house at Saint Mary's.

The exhibit, which opened last month and continues until Dec. 18, includes interactive and multi-media elements including a large collection of kaleidoscopes, colorful displays of fractal equations, video and computer presentations and examples of how artists use scientific principles to create perspective, optical illusions and even deception in their work.

In a panel presentation on Nov. 30 about the exhibit, Biology Professor Gerard Capriulo told more than 60 people that he has long seen artistry in science. When he was a teen and heard about the legendary explorer Jacques Cousteau's discoveries, Capriulo was inspired to study the rich biology of the ocean.

"I loved the way the sea looked. I loved the way it smelled," Capriulo said during the presentation at the Soda Center. "Second to that is 'why is it so gorgeous?'"

Capriulo, a marine biologist, said part of the reason for the beauty is that "Nature is filled with patterns. The elegance and the beauty draw you to it."

Astronomy Professor Ron Olowin, who worked on astronomical and fractal displays in the exhibit, was as rapturous about the subject of science and art as Capriulo. He began with a poem he wrote some 25 years ago which begins: The stars glitter like silver sequins; Spangling the black fabric of the sky...

Olowin explained fractals are beautiful and fantastic patterns that are self-similar in infinite detail whether they are viewed at the macro or sub-micro level. The intricate designs, which are displayed not only on the gallery walls but also in a changing display on a computer, can take weeks for a supercomputer to generate, he said.

The science and mathematics of spirals are also stunning whether in the swirl of galaxies, the chambers of a nautilus or the design of a flower or pinecone, Olowin and mathematics Professor Brother Raphael Patton told the audience.

Brother Raphael admitted that many people struggle with math while they "kind of get" biology and astronomy, but he said math is at the heart of many beautiful patterns in nature and in art.

"A spiral has a mathematical formula, and yet you look up in the sky and see them. There are billions," he said. "I don't know why you'd be impressed by billions. For me, one would be plenty."

Similarly, the nautilus "is a mathematical construction, but you can hold it in your hand," Brother Raphael continued.

Many of the displays at the Hearst Art Gallery are made possible only through computers or fairly recent scientific discoveries that have allowed exploration not only of the universe but also the inner building blocks of life, including the double helix structure of DNA.

"Yet Archimedes would understand it," Brother Raphael said, referring to the ancient Greek mathematician.

That's because mathematics, Brother Raphael said, "is the only thing we have that is truth."

The presentation was followed by a sneak preview of "Da Vinci: The Code He Lived By," which premieres Dec. 4 on the History Channel. The gallery at Saint Mary's College was one of 32 sites nationwide selected by the channel to preview the show.

For more information on the exhibit, visit the gallery site at: http://gallery.stmarys-ca.edu.
-- Erin Hallissy
Office of College Communications

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