Joe's Big Idea
9:48 am
Thu July 19, 2012

When Art Meets Science, You'll Get The Picture

Originally published on Thu July 19, 2012 10:15 am

Scientists often struggle to explain their work to us nonscientists. Art to the rescue!

In a new collaboration, artists are taking the inventions of teenage scientists and turning them into posters. Science inspires art. And the art inspires questions.

Why are umbrellas shimmering under the stars?

Because a teenager in Sri Lanka figured out how to use the positions of the starts to accurately predict rainfall.

Why is paint slithering across the canvas in a sinuous brushstroke?

Because a student in Florida invented a rudderlike device that could stop cars from sliding on slippery roads, improving traction and avoiding deadly accidents.

Why is there an ambulance and a hospital inside that injured person?

Because three teens in Costa Rica invented software that makes it quick and easy for ambulance medics to share patient data with the hospital using a mobile phone.

"I wanted to show that when medical systems are better integrated, they allow rescue teams to share a common image of the patient every step of the way," says Thomas Ng. The Brooklyn-born graphic designer was commissioned to illustrate the real-time medical data transfer system by SciArt,an art-meets-science mashup from the folks at Intel, which sponsors the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. He's one of dozens of artists asked to make art based on the science fair participants' innovations.

The seriousness of the students' intent set the tone for his art, Ng told NPR. "There's a lot of weight to this," he told himself. "I shouldn't take it lightly and design it like I would a movie poster."

But he also wanted to make sure that the scientists' goal was clear: "Life or death. You should know immediately what this poster means."

The desire to connect patient, ambulance and hospital inspired a wirelike line. And the line becomes the patient.

In the end, the artist says, helping the scientists communicate their ideas was more important than making something pretty. "These projects genuinely do make the world a better place," he said of the scientists' work.

So does art that gets the word out — and is beautiful, too.

Want to see more big ideas? Check out the trailer for NPR"s "What's Your Big Idea?" video contest, featuring Intel ISEF finalists. Then enter your own big idea. We'll promote your idea, and connect the grand prize winner with an expert for advice on how to make your big idea reality.

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