SEAD DISCUSSION : Opportunities and Obstacles Facing Scientists,
Mathematicians, and Engineers Deeply Engaged in the Arts and Design
We solicit invited comments to help understand the perspective of
researchers working in realms traditionally designated as scientific,
or pertaining more broadly to the STEM (science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics) who are heavily involved in
collaboration with artists, designers and humanities scholars.

A SEAD White Paper has been posted for comment and discussion:
Opportunities and Obstacles Facing Scientists, Mathematicians, and
Engineers Deeply Engaged in the Arts and Design by Carol Strohecker,
Roger Malina, and Wendy Silk and is available at

The White Paper resulted from interviews with 20 scientists : 7 women
and 13 men. All the responding scientists have been working
collaboratively with artists and/or designers for 5 years or more,
some for as long as 20 years or more, with one reporting such
collaboration dating back about 50 years.

Not surprisingly, a strong message throughout the interviews is that a
strong benefit for scientists collaborating with artists is to support
communication and education – with students and colleagues, and
especially among the general public. However many of the scientists
report having experienced changes in their methods, priorities,
focuses, or ways of conceptualizing. This provides a critical focus on
the benefits to science itself from SEAD practice.

If you wish to provide a public comment for this discussion please
contact Roger Malina at Please provide a very
brief bio and a few sentences on the main argument you would like to
make. We will then make invitations to selected contributors. We are
particularly keen to hear the opinions of scientists and engineers
involved in SEAD practices.

Moderated by Roger Malina, Astrophysicist


  1. Does Art-Science Collaboration Contribute In Any Way to Successful Scientific Practice?

    D.L. Marrin, Ph.D. (Biogeochemist and Water Scientist)

    Although I have only been collaborating with artists for about 6 years, there are three fundamental ways in which those interactions have assisted me in my scientific work or in designing my applied research to serve its target groups. The first is providing me a broader range of options for presenting and applying my basic science. This includes not only more comprehensible and relevant ways to portray water to laypersons, but also a different perspective on interpreting and expressing my data and observations. Specifically, I learned to discern patterns and rhythms within data and models that permitted me to transcend conventional and entrenched techniques for analyzing and interpreting my work. The second is a reminder that science provides only one of many valid ways of “knowing” the natural world. While this may sound more humbling than useful, it has provided me opportunities for talking science with groups whose primary connection to nature is more sensory, intuitive, or spiritual than it is intellectual.

    The third way is in altering a traditional approach to my applied research, which consisted of defining a problem or conundrum in terms of its description in the scientific literature and then crafting a strategy based on past successes or on general principles. In working with artists, who were more interested in how a problem affected the balance or integration of seemingly unrelated factors, I realized that my approach was sometimes too narrowly focused. Hence, even if I were to “solve” the immediate problem, the underlying issue would likely continue to arise in modified forms. In my opinion, this is why many technological “fixes” to water quality and quantity problems have been only marginally successful. I am beginning work on a watershed project in Mexico that is based (from its inception) on art-science collaborations.

  2. from michele emmer, mathematician

    Untill the end of the seventies I was a pure mathematician working on
    minimal surfaces and calculus of variation. Then I started making
    films on math and art, more or less 22 (including Escher, soap
    bubbles, Flatland….). My father was a well known Italian film maker.
    I also started organising large exhibitions on art and math including
    a section at the Biennale of Art in Venice. This work was a sort of
    parallel activity to my academic work.
    In 1997 I started organizing an annual meeting in Venice on math and
    culture, covering the relations between maths and art, architecture,
    music, litterature, films, theatre. Later, I started givind courses at
    the university for math and design students. My professional activity
    was really changed. In the last 20 years I have written books,
    including the one on soap bubbles in art and science, which won the
    Viareggio award as best Italian essay in 2010. I am a mathemician
    working on the connections between math and culture, mainly on math,
    art, architecture and technology. All these started in 1976 viewing an
    exhibhtion by Max Bill, with whom I cooperated in several projects
    thereafter. A special session of my annual confrence in Venice will be
    dedicated to him, on the 20th anniversary of his death.

  3. Hi Roger

    I have not yet come across a scientist or engineer who would admit in writing the influence of art on his or her work, except now by Dr Marrin; and that is why I was interested in contacting him. However the following information may interest you.

    I studied physics and mathematics before graduating in civil engineering from University of Karachi in 1962; but then changed to art. Although I tried to escape from engineering, it has greatly influenced my art; some of the ideas of which then emerged, subsequently, in the work of both architects and scientists, independently of what I had done. Here are two examples:

    1) During 1965-68, I produced a body of sculptures whose symmetrical structure was taken from the lattice structure of engineering (the kind you see in the cranes used for building works). Besides these works being pioneering works of Minimalism (as acknowledged by the Tate in 2007), they were the first attempt to infuse aesthetics into the functionality of lattice structure; and in fact this aestheticism of what were before only functional structures was picked up architects about ten years later (such as in the design of Pompidou Centre in Paris), and now architects all over the world use these structures aesthetically in their work.

    2) In 1968, I proposed that the symmetrical structure of my work Zero to Infinity should be broken by public participation, resulting into their continuous transformation leading to infinity. A similar phenomenon of “breaking symmetry” was discovered by some physicists in the nineties for which they were awarded Nobel Prize in 2008.

    My point is that same or similar ideas can emerge from different disciplines more or less during the same time.

    Best wishes

    Rasheed Areen

  4. Liliane Lijn • Hi Roger
    I have been asking that question for some time. It would be very
    interesting to see whether scientists
    may experience some benefit to their practice from collaboration with
    an artist or artists.

    There seem to be more artists than scientists in this dialogue or am I

  5. In collaborations with scientists, I have often found, as an artist, that it is difficult from the outset to convince them of the value of art practice and theory. I agree with the papers quoted by Roger. There is real asymmetry. I think that this in part arises because most scientists operate in very a different academic, institutional and financial environment from most artists. That may well be okay, but it also means that artists will most likely never come to nourish scientific research.
    By Kevin McCourt

  6. I am really unsure about the tenability of the distinction between
    science and art

    The fact is that at their best both are creative producers of knowledge

    We could call it the scientific arts or the art of science

    but i suppose the language itself is flawed and misleading

    Of course in “the one self-evident world” what we call science has a
    strong grasp on another tentative and precarious term “the real”,

    however, in the multiplicitous world of difference, that which makes
    life interesting – to quote a lecture from 1922 by Tristan Tzara – the
    distinctively named Art seems to hold more sway –

    The question however is more precarious and relevant when one becomes
    more concentrated on the role of industry and finance –

    Here in Germany on the weekend, on the cover of Die Zeit, or The Times,

    There was an image of two rabbits – One mounting the other –
    The one doing the mounting was labelled Industrie and the other,
    taking it – as it were – was labelled Wissenschaft – loosely
    translated Science, but more like knowledge production. ( All Fields
    are so precise and concise here that they are labelled, for example
    Theatre Wissenschaft, etc in the Universities)

    So the better question might be about how hegemonic and conservative
    industry and finance hold back the creative in both the sciences and
    the arts, to the point of planned obsolescence, or outright stagnation
    – though that is not formed into a question – i hope it makes some
    sense to some of us.

    Thanks for your time.

    jol thomson communicate at

  7. I am writing an academic blog about on the topic of using the arts/design in STEM education at the university level. Many of my posts address the question posed above as sometimes research is an inspiration for teaching. For those who have an interest, the blog can be found here:

    Lisa Delissio
    Professor of Biology
    Salem State University
    Salem, MA

  8. from linked in

    There’s an article in the ARTDAILY that talks about the benefits of art/science collaboration. It is interesting to note this collaboration is about the sharing of resources, but I found the comments from the scientists involved to be most interesting.

    I find the benefits to both groups when working together on projects can be both highly evident as well as subtle. The subtle benefits quite often comes as a nice surprise! That is why I encourage more of these collaborations in my initial comments above.

    By Richard Wong

  9. Richard Wong • Hopefully this link works. Title of the article is
    “Partnership Offers Art Imaging and Conservation Research
    Opportunities with New Laser System”.

    from linked in
    Rose-Lynn Fisher • It’s a fantastic pairing, and we can never know
    every direct consequence of art/sci collaboration – what stimulates
    what, and how an idea or inspiration can unfold and leave its own
    trail years later; I can attest to that – today’s feature on TIME’s
    blog, LightBox, includes my artwork of SEM images of bees, as part of
    a broader conversation written by Bryan Walsh regarding the plight of
    honey bees – so there’s science, art, and so many other fields that
    come together.

  10. from linked in

    I’d like to pick up on ‘the creative producers of knowledge’.

    A bit of speculation here:-

    Due to their training the use and acquisition of knowledge is approached in different ways by artists and scientists.

    It’s this difference that expands the understanding of some artists and scientists and can but does not invariably add value to art and science.

    One problem that may explain the absence of scientists on this site is that the recognised outcomes are different. These are publications in science, and virtually anything except publications in art. Most of the work that results from collaborations between artists and scientists result in some type of art work rather than scientific papers. This benefits the artist but is of minor career advantage to the scientist involved.

    I’m interested in what you think.
    By lizz Tuckerman