Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is putting on an art show.
“The Art of Science,” which opens Monday in the university’s Armory Art Gallery, aims to show how the microscopic images scientists generate in the course of their research can double as works of art.
The photographs look like abstract art but also in many instances represent some phenomenon in nature that’s being captured visually for the first time.
Narrating a video of slides that accompanies the show, associate professor Justin Barone with the Department of Biological Systems Engineering puts it this way: “These aren’t just microscopic images. They’re easels that paint a story.”
Barone’s own contribution is a black-and-white photo of objects that resemble clusters of rose petals.
What they are, in fact, are sheets of protein molecules. Scientists understand how molecules are formed, but “what we don’t understand is how nature puts molecules together to build stuff.”
In the laboratory, Barone was able to create the sheets and get them to curl up into tubes, and the photo captures that process in progress.
“The tube is what we want because nature can use those” – for example, as blood vessels, he said.
One of the ultimate purposes of Barone’s research is to create biodegradable building materials that could be substituted for plastics.