Science Inspiring Art Inspiring Science

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  • s c i e n c e / t e c h n o l o g y

    Science Inspiring Art Inspiring Science A scientist and an artist collaborate, each one's creativity stimulating the other's

    I t may be that science, as English novelist and critic Aldous Huxley wrote, "takes no cognizance of the things that make life worth living, for the simple reason that beauty, love, and so on, are not measurable quantities, and science deals only with what can be measured." Yet it is not unusual for sci-entists to project their creative energies beyond the realm of science. Many of us know of chemists who are poets, play-wrights, novelists, and musicians.

    Sometimes that creative channeling takes the form of science leading to art, of one researcher's work becoming the in-spiration that stirs the creative juices of an artist. A recent example is "Frog Fugue," a stunning mixed-medi-um artwork that occupies one wall in the office of Ronald T. Raines, a professor of biochem-istry and chemistry at the Uni-versity of Wisconsin, Madison.

    Raines is an avid art collec-tor. "Art is inspirational," he says, and he likes having beau-tiful objects and works of art around, in his office and in his home. "I think art and science are linked because of the cre-ative element, the idea that to do good art and to do good sci-ence you have to go beyond what other people have done."

    In 1998, Raines commis-sioned Madison artist Scott Lesh to create a piece that re-flects Raines's research on a protein from the northern leop-ard frog Rana pipiens. The pro-tein is a ribonuclease that has been found to be a potential chemotherapeutic agent for treatment of malignant me-sothelioma, a type of cancer that's associated with exposure to asbestos. It is being tested in Phase III clinical trials by Al-facell Corp., the New Jersey-based biotechnology company that discovered the ribonucle-ase, which is trade named On- Raines

    conase. The role of the protein in the life of the frog has not been fully elucidated. And the mechanism of its anticancer ac-tivity is not yet well understood.

    Raines's lab is working aggressively to understand how the protein kills cancer cells. The protein is very interesting be-cause humans have a similar one, but it doesn't kill cancer cells. Raines's ultimate goal is to make better versions of Onco-nase. "We have already made mutants of the human protein that are able to kill cancer cells," he tells C&EN. 'That's very exciting, because in the long run it would be better if we have drugs based on hu-man protein rather than on amphibian protein for immunological reasons."

    with "Frog Fugue.

    I f .

    Having seen other works by Lesh, Raines approached the artist about the project. Lesh regards "Frog Fugue" as "a meeting ground of art and science." Lesh has always had a camaraderie with scien-tists, he says. "I think scientists and art-ists are doing the same thing, which is ex-ploring the world, discovering new ways of looking at the world, and using nature as inspiration," he says.

    Made with cloth, oil color, dried frogs, copper, iron, wood, watercolor, ebony, and ivory, "Frog Fugue" mea-sures 5 feet 8 inches wide and 8 feet 5 inches long. The base is oak, carved with imagery suggesting different stag-es in the life cycle of frogs. The oak arch at the top is embedded with small brass pieces from the internal wood sections of piano keys.

    Both sections are inset with copper sheets bearing the original patina ac-quired as part of the roofing of Frank Lloyd Wright's Unitarian Meeting House in Madison. Lesh had obtained these sheets in the early 1990s, when sections of the roof were being redone. The panels are connected on either side

    with three iron rods faced with copper from braided cables. Lesh flattened the cables and created dark and light patterns by heating with nitric acid alter-nating stretches of the copper to form a patina.

    The middle section is sewn black cotton cloth depicting a scene of order rising from chaos, composed with dried frogs, ebo-ny and ivory piano keys, pieces from a violin and a cello, and In-dian wooden artifacts, both real and virtual. Lesh produced the virtual imagesor silhouettes by setting the objects on the black cloth and spraying the cloth with bleach. The treatment caused the black color around the objects to fade and appear speckled. Finally, using oil and latex paint, Lesh colored the cloth with warm earth tones.

    At about the center are three renditions of Rana pipiens mounted side by side. At left is a real, dry specimen. In the middle is the silhouette remaining after bleaching. And at right is a de-tailed watercolor drawing.

    In the materials and the de-sign, "Frog Fugue" captures not only Raines's research interest but also his love for music. "I see

    4 0 MAY 22, 2000 C&EN

  • Details from bottom and middle sections of "Frog Fugue."

    this piece literally as a musical score," Lesh says. "It's almost as if the frogs are notes or imprints of sound. And I see the rods as strings of an instrument or the lines of a musical staff." The repetitive interweaving themes of frogs and piano keys conjure a fugue.

    Upon its completion, "Frog Fugue"

    was initially displayed in 1999 on the ground floor of the University of Wisconsin's then newly constructed biochemistry building. The space was intended for poster sessions, but it immediately became evident, Raines says, that it was ideal for exhibiting artworks. Shortly after the building was inaugurated, the first of what has now become a series of exhibitions was held, featuring Lesh's works. Hanging in the west atrium, at the end of a long hallway, "Frog Fugue" was the most dramatic and newest piece. "It was magnificent," Raines recalls. "If you saw it from the other end of the hallway, it looked like a door into another world."

    "And because the floor was very

    shiny," Lesh adds, "the piece was reflected on the floor, creating the feeling that the floor was water. And you could see an impressionistic version on the floor."

    For now, "Frog Fugue" hangs in Raines's office.

    "I hope to enjoy it in my office for a while," Raines says, because the frog inspires the group that's working on On-conase. "But if we solve that problem and move on, I will need a new inspiration."

    What's for sure is that there will always be a piece of art on that wall in Raines's office. 'That's much better for my own creative work," Raines says.

    Maureen Rouhi

    7 - 9 N O V E M B E R 2 0 0 0

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    Science Inspiring Art Inspiring Science