Physics and art: exhibit planned for spring 2019

Artist Bryson Bost (left) and graduate student Johnny Davenport.

The idea of mixing a physics college curriculum with the humanities is nothing new, but for one UCSC lecturer the concept intrigued her enough to spearhead a collaborative art exhibit, opening this spring.

Stephanie Bailey, a Ben Lomond resident, nuclear physicist, and physics lecturer at UCSC, primarily teaches introductory physics for life science majors. As part of her classes, Bailey attempts to bring in humanities, arts, crafts and design practices (HACD). The aim is to incorporate other skills into the classroom to make a well-rounded student.

“It is important our students build bridges between disciplines in order to address real world problems that span disciplinary borders,’ Bailey said. “Incorporating HACD into our physics curriculum makes better scientists. Just as it leads to improved educational outcomes for undergraduates, HACD experiences ought to have value for STEM researchers as well.”

After introducing these practices into my classroom I saw it did make for better learners. I thought it does not have to stop here, so I imagined it could help researchers as well.”

This is where Bailey got the idea to pair 20 physicists with local artists to create a piece or pieces of work to be shown in an art gallery in March.

“I worked to pair each physicist with an artist,” Bailey said. “I wanted each physicist to explain to their artist what work he or she was doing and then it was up to the pairs on how to express the work visually.”

Through an open solicitation to the art community, Bailey said she was shocked at how many artists responded interested in the project. One of the artists was a Santa Cruz native, Tauna Coulson. Coulson got paired with first year UCSC graduate student Arturo Quezada, who works in the Velasco Lab.

“We had this great conversation and then he took me to the lab where he is essentially studying a type of microscope,” Coulson said. She explained the two worked together to explore the artistic beauty of graphene, one of the materials Quezada is looking at using the microscope.

The objective for the collaboration is to enable access and engage people with physics through art and to think about the role physics plays in their lives and the world at large. The final pieces of art will be displayed for the month of March next year at the Blitzer Gallery in Santa Cruz. Bailey is hoping to organize an opening reception with panel discussions with the artist/physicist pairs.

“It will be a moderated panel where the artists and physicists can talk about the creative process and what was learned working together,” Bailey said.

Bailey said she is still looking for donations to organize and fund the exhibit and those looking to help fund the project can visit:

In addition to being one of the artists, Coulson is also the curator of the exhibit. According to Coulson, she is encouraging all the pairs, in addition to the artwork, work on writing up a short simple piece explaining what it is the physicist is working on.

“Physicists do not normally interact with artists; those circles rarely cross paths,” Bailey said. “For me this has been a wonderful opportunity to meet other people and bring me closer to a whole other community in Santa Cruz.”

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