Beyond the Beaker

By Robin Tierney
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, July 23, 2006

After weeks of summer breaking and baking, we could use some intellectual stimulation. Not the heavy back-to-school variety, but new views to refresh the eyes, mind and spirit.

We've found them across town: workday and weekend escapes that serve up smart art with a twist of science. Ditch any notions about a chasm between scientists and artists. They share sharp eyes and heightened sensibilities, as proven by some of the world's most creative thinkers -- da Vinci ring a bell? The insights he gained from scientific scrutiny of anatomy and optics contributed to his "Last Supper," "Mona Lisa" and other masterpieces.

Artists express visual imagery with materials organic and inorganic, draw from science to render form and motion, and use technology to create and animate their works. Scientists use art to illustrate concepts and illuminate marvels of biology, chemistry, physics, math and engineering. We're not talking still lifes, but real life -- from blown-up microscopic views of nature's handiwork to lyrical embodiments of mathematical principles.

Here are five mind-tingling places to recharge spirit and synapses. And don't worry; you don't need to be a genius to enjoy the view.


Here's a best-kept secret just steps from Metro Center. Ensconced in a space that curves around like a nautilus shell, the AAAS art shows have spotlighted interactions between art and science for more than 20 years.

On view: In "Bio Puncta Art," one of three summer exhibitions, Rachel von Roeschlaub crosses molecular biology with spirituality and wit. In a series that includes "Frog Fatale" (left) and "Octopus Hoedown," quirky anthropomorphic animals spring forth from delightfully dotted background patterns. Using a style that fuses aboriginal and modern folk art influences, the artist applies acrylics to recycled, surface-treated LP records (remember those?). She has adopted a pointillist technique to render primitive shapes with depth and motion.

Von Roeschlaub also possesses serious science chops, having chased down breast cancer and long-term memory genes as well as managed a genome center before the art muse called during a trip to Italy. Now she juggles painting, illustrating kids' books and teaching biology in India.

In "Kaleidoscope Visions," cool off at the sight of Al Teich's crystalline black-and-white prints that suggest snowflakes, lace, buttons, beads, jewels, even tiny metal dolls. To achieve these captivating symmetrical images, Teich's kaleidoscope requires an extremely precise alignment of mirrors. "Tiara," "Starburst," "Invasion" . . . the names perfectly reflect the astonishing variety of visuals created by a single instrument.

The eye-popping winners of a contest organized by the National Science Foundation and the AAAS make up the third summer exhibit. Photographs, illustrations, informational graphics, interactive media and non-interactive media were judged for their visual impact, originality and their ability to communicate high-science concepts in an accessible way. Sample view: The illustration "Water Permeation Through Aquaporins" captures water molecules doing the twist.

Curator's sound bite: "I thought Al's black-and-white work . . . would balance Rachel's color," says Shirley Koller, a Foggy Bottom sculptor who has curated the space for nine years.

Through Sept. 29. 1200 New York Ave. NW. Free. 202-333-4817. .


Bethesda-based Amy Lamb, whose career path U-turned from biology to photography (her "Ganzania" is at far right), and Rosamond Purcell, whose Iris prints offer peeks at natural history specimens, are on view weekdays in the lobby of this satellite building of the National Academy of Sciences (see below).

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