Photography and Science
I don’t think that I’ve mentioned it before on the blog, but I am something of an amateur photographer. I learned the skill during my undergraduate years, when I worked in the Art Department at Oklahoma State University. For three years, I was a student worker in the Visual Resources Library, where one of my jobs was photography. I created slides (um, yes, we still used slides. I’m getting old, okay? In my defense, though, I actually programed the very first online image repository used by the art department as well) both from original artwork (by the students and faculty) and from books (for the art history courses). My mentor there, Patricia Radford, was an outstanding photographer and taught me everything I know. Currently, most of my photography takes place when I travel, which is a lot of fun.
The reason I tell this is because now, as a scientist, I can appreciate photography both for his aesthetic value and for it’s scientific value. Although many people think very little about how much of an impact that different types of photography have had on science, it’s impact has been enormous (if often bizarre). Whether using photography to reveal before unknown aspects of movement in humans and other animals like Eadward Muybridge, harnassing electron microscopes to allow us to peer into the unknown areas of our immediate surrounds, or tracking global warming’s consequences, photography has open vast new areas of visual information to all humans.
In many ways, video is simply a very large collection of photographs played back quite quickly, flipbook style. I recently stumbled across a fascinating series of videos shot at an extremely high frame rate (2000 frames per second – the human eye tends to be fooled into acceptable motion at 24 frames per second, for a reference) , allowing for an immense slowing of time on the action happening therein. It’s called, appropriately enough, the Slow Mo Show. One of my favorites is the fellow getting hit in the face with a water balloon. Not only is it hilarious, but it can also be used to help people understand fluid dynamics and reveal some of the mystery of what happens when we are watching, but not seeing. Go watch a few and let me know what you think below.