Kimball Art Talk will bridge science and art |

Kimball Art Talk will bridge science and art

For the past 12 years, the Scientific Computing and Imaging (SCI) Institute at the University of Utah has established itself as an internationally recognized leader in visualization, scientific computing and image analysis. The SCI (pronounced ski), whose main interest has been in biomedicine, aims to create new scientific computing techniques, tools and systems that will help maintain health and human life.

More recently, researchers have solved challenging computational and imaging problems in other sciences including geophysics, molecular and fluid dynamics and atmospheric dispersion.

Some of the research visualizations have an artistic appeal and are part of the Art of Science exhibit at the Kimball Art Center, 638 Park Ave. The images have been on display since Feb. 11 and are scheduled to remain through April 7.

On Thursday, March 15, SCI Institute director Dr. Chris Johnson will give an Art Talk at the KAC in relationship with the exhibit.

Johnson will discuss topics in the visual representation of data, form and function that cross over between art and science.

"I’ve chosen a couple of different applications where people will readily see the connections," he said. "I’ll start with some biomedical example and show the process of turning the data into medical images and linking them with simulated data or other experimental data."

That process can be useful for physicians to understand what’s going on above and beyond the original and basic images they normally use to diagnose an issue, Johnson said.

"Our goals for our research is to initially create effective visual representations of the science we are working on," he said. "Sometimes the visuals turn out to look very artistic."

Johnson will then explain how SCI staff creates the visualizations and tie in how abstraction is important in both the scientific and artistic world.

"We may use the visuals in a different way, but they are fundamentally the same in terms of trying to find the right abstraction that best represents the underlined data and function you’re trying to understand," he said.

In addition, Johnson will draw some analogies between visual scientists and visual artists and then talk about various visualizations of pieces artwork that SCI has done.

"One of the most exciting ones that we’ve examined is of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ statue that is in a museum in Florence, Italy," Johnson said.

The museum allowed a student from Stanford University to scan the statue with a range-finding laser scanner at a very high resolution.

"We worked with the student to turn those scans into a three-dimensional model made out of itty-bitty triangles," Johnson said "We found there are 933 million of those triangles in the model. It’s so high resolution, at two giga-pixels, which is more than 1,000 times the resolution of the standard camera image, that it’s a perfect copy and the visualizations that come out of that are stunning."

One of the reasons the museum agreed to participate was because if anything happened to the original, they would have a digital duplicate that could be used to replicate it," Johnson said.

The bridge between art and science is nothing new, although these days the disciplines seem to sit on the opposite sides of the spectrum.

"When you look back in history, you find people like Galileo and Leonardo da Vinci," Johnson said. "da Vinci epitomized both science and art and he has that great quote: ‘Study the science of art and the art of science.’ That’s exactly what he did with his amazing scientific studies to better his art. And through that, he better understood science.

"A lot of that philosophy has been lost, but through this visualization of nature and computer simulations and computer games, I think the necessary connection between science and art is coming again to the forefront," Johnson said. "I think as scientists, we are learning more about art, color and perceptions. We are seeing the value in that cross-disciplinary training."

The idea for the Art in Science exhibit started with a dinner Johnson and members of his staff had with KAC executive director Robin Marrouche.

"We were talking about some of our work at dinner one evening and she wanted to come down and see it," Johnson said. "She and the director of exhibitions (Erin Linder) came down and we gave them an overview of some of the research we’ve done and showed them some of the visualization images we had created from the research."

Marrouche and Linder thought the images captured the artistic side of SCI’s research.

"It kind of tied into what the Kimball was doing with Carl Richards’ Visualizing Finance exhibit," Johnson said. "He is interested in visualizing financial data and understanding, and we have a new faculty member at the SCI institute, Mariah Meyer, who does a type of visualization called information visualization. Rather than scientific visualization, which is about the three special dimensions and time, specifically medical visualization or fluid dynamics, she does more with high-dimensional data that includes DNA sequences or network configurations.

"Robin decided the combination of the financial show with the Art of Science show would make sense, because like in finance, f you can find the right visual abstractions and techniques in science, the data is turned into understanding," Johnson said.

Dr. Chris Johnson, the director of the SCI Institute will present an Art Talk on Thursday, March 15, at the Kimball Art Center, 638 Park Ave., from 6 p.m. until 7 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit

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