It is often thought that science and art are two opposite ends of the spectrum; whilst science is a strict, results-driven discipline, art is a creative, free expression of beauty – but this isn’t actually the case and there is a growing effort to recognise the similarities between art and science.
This week, scientists Emma Gowen and Ellen Poliakoff from the BEAM lab teamed up with local artist Anthony Hall and Steven Roper from the Whitworth Art Gallery to teach 150 local primary school children about the values of both science and art.
During the day the children learnt about the science of vision and the reasons why we see some art as beautiful and others as creepy.
The day started off by asking children to draw what they thought a scientist looked like versus what an artist looked like. The children then had to guess who was an artist and who was a scientist, which they didn’t always get right. Emma and Ellen then led a workshop looking at why our brains perceive somethings to be creepy and looked at the idea of realism in art.
The afternoon session kicked off with artist, Anthony Hall teaching about the ideas of beauty and how they apply to realism in paintings. It built upon what the children had learnt previously about the science of vision and how our brains perceive what it sees. The group also went around the gallery and applied what they had learnt to real life paintings.
The children then had a chance to create their own art. They produced art which was a mixture of different facial features in order to make something that blurred the lines between reality to see how creepy the pictures made them feel. They then rated the picture on a graph which compared how real the picture looked and how creepy this made them feel.
The day ended with another chance to draw what they thought an artist and what they thought a scientist looked like. As you can see, not only did the day blur the lines between reality, it also blurred the lines between science and art.
Scientists have a problem: they find it hard to convey their knowledge and the importance of their research to the general public and, making time for this, clearly adds to the challenge. Sure, programmes like Stargazing Live and Big Blue Live are helping lead a fresh wave of interest in science, but they often focus on popular events or topics which have already made it into the limelight of interest. Faculty researchers at the Manchester Fly Facility are coming up with novel strategies to reach the public aiming to enthuse about less known topics, in their case the importance of Drosophila research.
Drosophila is better known as the fruit fly. It has been used in the research for 5 Nobel Prizes in Physiology and Medicine and over 100,000 scientific papers have been written about it. Its importance to science cannot be overstated and yet it is hardly taught in schools and its significance is little known by the general public. The Manchester Fly Facility addresses this unfortunate shortcoming with a series of well-designed resources for teachers inspiring them to use the fly as a powerful modern teaching tool for curriculum-relevant topics in biology lessons, and in this way to reach broad young audiences.
Professor Andrea Prokop states:
Drosophila is the conceptually best understood animal we have, it is used by over ten thousand scientists worldwide for cutting edge research, and it is easy to keep in schools for captivating, memorable experiments that bring life into classrooms. In a nutshell, flies have all the ingredients to convey conceptual understanding of biology as well as the thrill and relevance of science as a subject and future career perspective.
The resources are built on long-standing experiences that the team has with school visits, where Drosophila is always a warmly greeted guest. This approach has now been taken to the next level with the “droso4schools” project. On this project, doctoral students went into two schools, Trinity CoE High School and Loreto Sixth Form College, to work as teaching assistance for months. This allowed the team to develop an understanding of the biology curriculum and school realities, to then use this knowledge and develop biology lessons in which Drosophila is being uses as a powerful modern teaching tool, made memorable through simple but telling experiments with living flies.
Surita Lawes, Head of Science and Maths Faculty at Loreto College, said about a lesson on genetics and alcohol developed at her school:
By studying mutations in Drosophila, our students have been exploring how alcohol and human culture affects our genetic make-up. It’s an excellent way for teachers to meet the challenge of revising many areas of the new linear syllabus using a topic designed to spark an interest.
Also students loved the new way of teaching. After an experimental session using a simple climbing assay comparing the performance of old versus young flies, Tof Apampa from Trinity High said :
Having the flies in the classroom was good fun. It was so clear to see how the old flies were less mobile then the young ones. We then learnt how this can help us understand aging in humans. It also showed in a really clear way how using a large sample size is important when we are looking for patterns in scientific data.
The Fly Facility is looking to pave the way to make science more relevant and accessible than ever before – and they’re doing it with the humble fruit fly.