December 21, 2011

“Your Brain on Donuts” and Dyadic Trees Among Images in “Art of Science” Exhibit


“TREE”: The second prize-winning entry in this year’s “Art of Science” competition is a “dyadic tree” or data structure. Its creator, graduate student Zhen James Xiang, says that it “reminds us of the inspirations we receive from nature: that harmony is required between division and unity.”

Question: What do “Blind in Anarctica,” “Your Brain on Donuts,” and “Close Relative” have in common?

Answer: They are among the 56 works chosen to appear in Princeton University’s fifth “Art of Science” exhibit now on display at the Friend Center.

This year’s theme, “Intelligent Design,” drew 168 submissions from undergraduates, faculty, research staff, graduate students, and alumni representing 20 departments. The competition’s ongoing title, “Art of Science,” is derived from Leonardo da Vinci’s directive to “Study the science of art and the art of science.”

“‘Art of Science’ is a truly interdisciplinary event,” observed Pablo Debenedetti, vice dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, during an awards ceremony recognizing this year’s three best entries. As in previous years, these and the other images in the exhibit were produced during the course of scientific research. They “are not art for art’s sake,” say the curators, but are chosen, rather, “for their aesthetic excellence as well as scientific or technical interest.”

And so the first prize winner, “Chaos and geomagnetic reversals,” by postdoctoral student  Christophe Gissinger of the Department of Astrophysical Sciences/ Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, may remind a viewer of a ribbony, multi-colored roller coaster. An elaborate cactus may come to mind on viewing second place winner, “Tree,” by graduate student  Zhen James Xiang from Department of Electrical Engineering.” Third place winner, “Dust to Dust, to Planets” by Department of Astrophysical Sciences graduate student  Xuening Bai  and faculty member James M. Stone  defies easy metaphors and, like all of the other images in the exhibit, deserves to be seen up close.

Several images that lend themselves to a smaller format appear on the wall opposite the main exhibit. An added attraction on that wal—probably unintended—is a case filled with publications by faculty in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.  In a kind of kinship with the art surrounding them, titles like “eBay and Human Behavior,”  and “The Origins of Human Society” reflect the complexity and beauty of science at work.
Judges in this year’s “Art of Science” competition were David Dobkin, dean of the Faculty; Joel Smith, curator of Photographer at the Art Museum; and President Shirley M. Tilghman.   Sponsors included the Lewis Center, Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering, princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, the Office of the Dean for Research, the Princeton Art Museum, the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the David A. Gardner ’69 Fund in the Humanities Council.

The new “Art of Science” images will remain on view for a year in the Friend Center Atrium gallery, which is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. To learn more about the exhibit and to view this, and earlier exhibits, visit