Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Exhibition Spotlight: Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight

Natasha Ruiz-Gómez
April 2014

I was mesmerized by the video that greets the visitor to the British Library's current
exhibition, Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight. In NASA's Perpetual Ocean (2011),
ocean currents are rendered as spiraling white lines that make and unmake themselves as
they whirl across the surface of this virtual earth. The exhibition makes a powerful argument
for the critical importance of the visual in communicating scientific data and helping
scientists and others (including Florence Nightingale, whose important 'Diagram of the
Causes of Mortality in the Army' during the Crimean War is displayed nearby) to persuade
their audiences. As I stood transfixed, I became aware that I was recalling the waves and
eddies that animate Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night (1889, New York, Museum of Modern
Art), and I was struck by the unexpected ways that art can illuminate science, and science art.

Exhibition URL: http://www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/beautiful-science

Video URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCmTY0PKGDs

Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East Florence Nightingale. Notes on matters, affecting the health, efficiency and hospital administration of the British Army. London, 1858. [BL]

Vincent Van Gogh, The Starry Night (1889) [MOMA]