The Art of Science

Last fortnight’s News Blog featured an article on inter-disciplinary research. The CLAHRC WM Director opined that collaboration was most likely to be successful when the topics were closely related cognitively – statistics and epidemiology say – rather than only distantly connected – fine art and nanotechnology say.
It is important, however, to correct any impression that disparate subjects, such as nanotechnology and art, should ‘pass like ships in the night’. It is certainly not the case that art and science are hermetically sealed in distant intellectual boxes. One obvious point of connection lies in the portrayal of science in drama. The CLAHRC WM Director recently accompanied his daughter, Nicola, to Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of Rosalind Franklin in “Photograph 51” at the Noel Coward Theatre in London. Marvellous production, where Kidman gave a vivid, but subtle, portrayal of Franklin’s inner terror of fallibility disguised in a rebarbative outward demeanour. She kept worrying that there was some problem with her data or interpretation, and pusillanimous about publishing her remarkable findings. This reticence created the opening for Watson and Crick to make a scoop – abetted by Birmingham-born Maurice Wilkins. The portrayal of the science was lucid and interesting and seamlessly woven into the plot.

This show made the CLAHRC WM Director reflect on other famous dramatic portrayals of scientific discoveries – here are some examples:

Scientific Discovery Scientist Play/Movie Lead Actor
Game theory John van Neumann Dr. Strangelove Peter Sellers
Theory of co-operation  when game theory applied to groups John Nash A Beautiful Mind Russell Crowe
Self-certifying nature of severe mental illness David Rosenhan (Being Sane in Insane Places) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Jack Nicholson
Radiation at the event horizon of black holes Stephen Hawking The Theory of Everything Eddie Redmayne
General relativity Albert Einstein,
Arthur Eddington
Einstein and Eddington Andy Serkis,
David Tennant
Human emotions in Gorillas Dian Fossey Gorillas in the Mist Sigourney Weaver
Discovery of computers Alan Turing The Imitation Game Benedict Cumberbatch
Neurochemistry of encephalitis lethargica Oliver Sacks Awakenings Robin Williams

News Blog readers are invited to comment and submit other examples of the genre!

— Richard Lilford, CLAHRC WM Director

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One thought on “The Art of Science”

  1. Dear all,

    I am mildly concerned around the lack of female representation in this hand-picked ‘Hall of Fame.’ I note the absence of Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin and Ada Lovelace.

    Rosalind was pivotal in providing the first evidence for the double-helix and her work in X-ray crystallography has not been recognized by the Nobel Institute as they do not present posthumous prizes.

    Ada Lovelace was a very precocious mathematician and the first computer programmer. She preceded Alan Turing by a century such was her foresight.

    I feel these women and many others deserve more recognition of their contributions.

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