Images of Discovery: Communicating Science through Photography

January 26, 2015

The MIT Museum presents Images of Discovery: Communicating Science through Photography, a unique exhibition that includes image-making stations providing visitors with direct experiences related to the work of three distinguished image-makers: historic practitioners Harold "Doc" Edgerton, and Berenice Abbott; and contemporary practitioner Felice Frankel. In each case, visitors gain insights into some of the ways in which image making contributes to the worlds of science and technology.

Perhaps best known by the general public for his iconic Milk Dropphotograph and his work with strobe photography, Harold "Doc" Edgerton blurred the distinction between artist and engineer. While much of Edgerton's work had important military and civilian applications, it was his methodological innovations that were most influential on the renowned portrait photographer Berenice Abbott. Working at MIT in the late 1950s, Abbott helped to illustrate a new physics curriculum for high school students. Her experiments with innovative ways of capturing wave patterns helped MIT scientists to further their understanding of the natural world.

Today, Felice Frankel continues this MIT tradition of experimenting with new techniques of image making that contributes directly both to scientific research and to the communication of research to wider audiences. Internationally renowned, not least through works such as Envisioning Science: The Design and Craft of the Science Image (2004), and Visual Strategies: A Practical Guide to Graphics for Scientists and Engineers (2012) Frankel continues to demonstrate the indispensability of images and image making to path-breaking research.

"Wherever you look in science," says MIT Museum Director John Durant, "you see the historical importance of finding new ways of visualizing things, leading to greater understanding of the world. From Galileo's use of his own hand-built telescope to explain the movements of the earth and other planets, to the latest imaging technologies in everything from nanotechnology to neuroscience, the making of images remains central to our ability to make new discoveries."

"For this reason," says Durant, "we wanted to give our visitors the opportunity to work with some of the same instruments that have been used by our three featured image makers. In total there are six image making stations, each of which provides users with the opportunity to see the unseen, and to share what they've seen with others should they choose to upload their images here in the MIT Museum to a social media site."

Images of Discovery presents an exciting opportunity for visitors to experience photography as a tool for communicating about—and inspiring a passion for—science and technology.

Image Making Stations

Water Drop, based on the work of Harold "Doc" Edgerton
Capture a water drop as it falls. This technique resulted in Edgerton's famous, and now iconic "milk drop" image.

Capture Movement, based on the work of Harold "Doc" Edgerton
Use one of the objects provided to "see the unseen" by filming with a high-speed video camera.

A Bouncing Ball, based on the work of Berenice Abbott
Use a strobe light and an iPad camera to photograph a bouncing ball.

Water Waves in a Ripple Tank, based on the work of Berenice Abbott
This experiment is a simple set-up that allows visitors to make images of waves.

Photographing Ferrofluid, based on the work of Felice Frankel
Using magnets and an iPad camera, visitors will photograph FerroFluid, a special material that acts like both a liquid and a magnetic solid.

Zoom Scanner, based on the work of Felice Frankel
Using a zoom scanner visitors will capture the hidden aspects of everyday objects.

About the photographers:

Harold "Doc" Edgerton (1903 - 1990) was named MIT Institute Professor in 1966 after a distinguished career as an inventor, photographer and professor of Electrical Engineering at MIT. His many achievements in the field of stroboscopy were applied to a range of fields, from the military to archeology and underwater exploration.

Berenice Abbott (1898 - 1991) is best known as a 20th-century documentary photographer; but she spent several years at MIT in the late 1950s, creating imagery for a new physics curriculum meant to deepen and strengthen American scientific knowledge. Her images documented principles of physical science, while her innovative techniques advanced the field of photography.

Felice Frankel is a science photographer and a research scientist in the MIT Center for Materials Science and Engineering. She regularly collaborates with scientists and engineers to promote the public understanding of science through visual expression. Her work is regularly featured in books, films, websites, and in print.

Related public program:

FebFest: Light. Cameras. Science!, Feb. 16-21, 2015
This week is the first of several programs that will be held throughout the year to focus on how imaging techniques can impact learning about scientific principles.

Daily activities include workshops, MIT student demonstrations and drop-in programs every morning from 10 - noon. Saturday will feature the new photography fair, when photographers of all kinds will be on hand to show their work, explain their techniques and cameras. Suitable for all ages.Registration is now open for all workshops.

About the MIT Museum
The MIT Museum's mission is to engage the wider community with MIT's science, technology and other areas of scholarship in ways that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century. The Museum features two floors filled with ongoing and changing exhibitions, currently with an emphasis on robotics, photography and holography, MIT history, and current MIT research. The Museum presents monthly programs that appeal to middle school students and older, Vacation week programs, and presents the annual Cambridge Science Festival in April.

About the Arts at MIT
The arts at MIT connect creative minds across disciplines and encourage a lifetime of exploration and self-discovery. They are rooted in experimentation, risk-taking and imaginative problem-solving. The arts strengthen MIT's commitment to the aesthetic, human, and social dimensions of research and innovation. Artistic knowledge and creation exemplify our motto - mens et manus, mind and hand. The arts are essential to MIT's mission to build a better society and meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Visitor Information
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