Breaking the Binary – Combining Art and Science to Better the World

Left Brain Right Brain

Engineer or musician?

Architect or painter?

Ecologist or author?

An outsider, somebody who has no stake in either of the fields, may look upon these things as separate entities, polar opposites even, budding up against one another to compete for space. When I was a kid, I certainly thought so. One being reserved for introverted, technically gifted people with too much time on their hands, and the other, highly imaginative folks with a creation complex, burning the candle on both ends. Little did I know I was a sprouting example of the contrary.

College convinced me that science and art were never meant to be separated. I graduated with an English degree, minoring in the ever enigmatic “Renaissance Program.” The program was proposed to the extra art affiliated students like myself to get a taste of the “other side.” Taking akin to the time of da Vinci, when expertise was expertise, and the two fields overlapped more than interfered. The only difference between art studio and science lab back then were the means by which big questions were asked, but both avenues sought the same answers, and still do. So trotting out of a literary fiction or new media course, I’d hop across the street and enter a physics or econ classroom.

One particular graduate MIT student personifies this idea that art and science are indeed interconnected, applying the link towards the common good. With an original focus dabbling in augmented reality, Anirudh Sharma was “at a conference in India when he noticed black particles accumulating on his white shirt,” Christina Nunez writes for National Geographic. “The specks settling on him were pollution in the surrounding air.”

That obviously sounds bad. Really bad. Pollutant flakes big enough to visualize, think about the impact on health and the environment. But Sharma, with his critical mind and creative mind working together in concert, came up with a genius idea. “[He] saw the pollution particles as something simpler: a coloring agent.”

Sharma fashioned a device that mounts to the exhaust pipe of a car or generator, collects the pollutants, and then by a process of mixing solvents with additional black powders, the eco-friendly ink is born. Paints, screen printing, and markers – soot collected from burning diesel fuel, he thought, could be (and should be) reused and re-purposed. “It’s not just that we’re recycling that material into inks. What we are also doing is replacing the carbon black that otherwise would have been used to make black inks,” says Nikhil Kaushik, Sharma’s creative partner and co-founder of Air-Ink.

Projects like this are gaining momentum, blazing out of the woodwork thanks to a resurgence of Renaissance thinking. Another excellent example is Jill Pelto. Jill holds an undergraduate degree in Studio Art, and is currently working towards her Masters in the University of Maine’s Earth and Climate Department.

Pelto’s graphs are one of a kind, and a true sight to behold. Taking her scientific research – data on glacier mass decline over the last 30 years, for instance – Pelto plots out, designs, and colorizes striking pieces of visual art, aimed at conceptualizing environmental problems to raise awareness.

Her work includes advocacy for habitat, wildlife, and rainforest protection, dramatizing climate change, forest fire activity, and of course, glacier loss. “My love of nature and wilderness drives me to use creativity to communicate information about extreme environmental issues with a broad audience. I have conducted research on the mountain glaciers of Washington and British Columbia, in the Dry Valleys and Trans-antarctic Mountains of Antarctica, over the rolling hills and carved cirques of the Falkland Islands, and around the aqua lakes and ochre mountains of New Zealand. I see nature as a work of art, and the origin of my observational skills,” Pelto says on her website, which can be found here including a full gallery of work:

Wenck consultants implement Renaissance thinking in every project they undertake, often times utilizing “first of its kind” design. Though true, they primarily operate on separate hemispheres of the brain, art and science, science and art, aren’t so different after all. Each works to bring out the best, perhaps even relying on the other to endure. From stormwater systems to agribusiness plant operations and much, much more, our tech experts break the binary, using both sides of the mind to build a better planet.

Follow this link for a detailed, recent example involving Wenck’s work with warehouse drainage and sustainability:


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Paul Rousseau

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