Minerals glow like stained glass in a magnified cross-section of a Martian meteorite. A hypnotic swirl of spikes grows at the center of an aloe plant in a natural expression of mathematics’ golden ratio.
In their unending quest for knowledge, sometimes scientists discover art along the way.
That’s the theme of a new exhibit at UNLV. “Inquiry: The Art of Scientific Discovery” highlights the intrinsic beauty of the universe as seen through the eyes and instruments of university researchers.
Jason Steffen, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, began assembling the display almost a year ago. He said he hopes those who see it will gain a new appreciation for both the stunning forms of nature and the hard work that goes into “adding to the knowledge base of humanity.”
He also wants to promote research being done at UNLV.
Despite recent headlines about a supposed “war on science,” Steffen insists the exhibit is not political. The idea is as simple as this, he said: Scientists often get to see things the public doesn’t, and “these things can be pretty spectacular.”
The 18 science-based works of art include photographs, computer models and a 3-D rendering. Every department in UNLV’s College of Sciences is represented, Steffen said.
One image of salt crystals viewed through a scanning electron microscope reveals details one-millionth of an inch in size. Another shows the dizzying, star-speckled view through the Kepler space telescope, which Steffen and others are using to identify distant exo-planets.
Whole generations of researchers were inspired to take up science through footage of the moon landings and images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, Steffen said. “Perhaps there will be someone who will be similarly inspired by some of the cutting edge science now being done at UNLV.”
“Inquiry: The Art of Scientific Discovery” runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through March 31 at the Jessie and Brian Metcalf Gallery on the second floor of UNLV’s Richard Tam Alumni Center. The exhibit is free.