Thursday, December 06, 2012

Nature's brilliance

When back in England last summer, I dined in St John's College, Oxford, where an old university friend of mine is a member of the Senior Common Room. At this dinner, we were fortunate to meet Franziska Schenk, a German artist who was on a short summer residency at the college. Franziska has for several years been a teacher and researcher at Birmingham University, and has developed a fascinating specialism in a novel intersection between art and science: she is a pioneer and an evangelist for recent developments in the science of materials which have enabled the creation of pigments formed of nanoparticles that can emulate the spectacular iridescence found in nature, particularly in birds and insects. She was spending her few weeks in Oxford studying the enormous collections of tropical beetles in the University's Pitt Rivers Museum, whose intricate colouring she will then seek to replicate in her work..

Here's an example of one of her paintings.

Photographs can't begin to do justice to the richness of detail here. The pigments are delicately layered, creating a finely textured surface - and an almost 3-D effect: the colours change dramatically depending on the angle you are looking at them from.

You can check out more of her work on her website, or read her description of one of her series of paintngs in this technique. And there's a short piece on the science behind these biomimetic pigments in The Guardian here, and a slightly fuller discussion in Scientific American here.

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