Nobel Laureates Draw Playful Pictures of Their Discoveries

nobel soccer 3

As an arty, unath­let­ic only child in the 70s, I refused to buy into the idea that sci­ence could be fun. This despite a wealth of zip­py edu­ca­tion­al pro­gram­ming, and the efforts of at least two cute young teach­ers whose hands-on approach includ­ed throw­ing eggs off of a rail­road tres­tle, demol­ish­ing tooth­pick bridges and dip­ping things into liq­uid nitro­gen for the sheer plea­sure of see­ing them explode when they hit the wall. Nice try. As far as I was con­cerned, those dullsville black-and-white films from the ’50s embod­ied the sub­jec­t’s gen­er­al vibe far more hon­est­ly than any attempt to force it down our throats with a fash­ion­able Hon­ey­comb Kids-style spin.

Hav­ing by now met dozens of sci­en­tists and sci­ence enthu­si­asts who are left cold by the arts, I’m not ashamed to be plain­spo­ken here.  I cer­tain­ly don’t begrudge them their pas­sion, and appre­ci­ate it when they don’t belit­tle mine. Dif­fer­ent strokes, you know?

Still, it’s nice to stum­ble across com­mon ground and for me, pho­tog­ra­ph­er Volk­er Ste­gerfor’s Nobel lau­re­ate por­traits pro­vides acreage on the order of Jim Otta­viani and Leland Myrick­’s graph­ic biog­ra­phy of Richard Feyn­man. I may be hard pressed to artic­u­late what the peo­ple in the por­traits are famous for, but I appre­ci­ate their will­ing­ness to be a play by the artist’s rules. (By his esti­mate, the decline rate is some­where around 4. 29%)

Ste­gerfor’s method for cap­tur­ing big brained inno­va­tors in a light frame of mind resem­bles a well run exper­i­ment. His unsus­pect­ing spec­i­mens were appre­hend­ed at Ger­many’s annu­al Lin­dau Nobel Lau­re­ate Meet­ing. Thus secured, they were led one at a time into a tem­po­rary stu­dio where each was invit­ed to draw what­ev­er it was that had earned him or her the Nobel prize. The results weren’t much as art, but they’re unmis­tak­ably play­ful, bristling with arrows, excla­ma­tion points, smi­ley faces, and word bub­bles. The pho­tog­ra­ph­er let his sub­jects pick the pose, at which points things did become art.

I’m going to award 1996 Chem­istry lau­re­ate Sir Harold Kro­to Best in Show for his well war­rant­ed action pose. Appar­ent­ly, his dis­cov­ery’s mol­e­c­u­lar struc­ture looks like a soc­cer ball.

It’s not exact­ly Break­ing Bad, but it does bring Chem­istry alive for me as a sub­ject oth­ers might find enjoy­able in the empir­i­cal sense.

View a gallery of Volk­er Ste­gerfor’s Sketch­es of Sci­ence. If you’re real­ly into it, the Nobel Muse­um is herald­ing a trav­el­ing exhi­bi­tion of Ste­gerfor’s work with audio record­ings of the sci­en­tists on the sub­ject of their dis­cov­er­ies.

via The Smith­son­ian blog

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is slat­ed to direct the world’s first bio-his­tor­i­cal musi­cal in Novem­ber. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday


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