Connecting Science and Art

Connecting Science and Art

Dr Benny Ng (back row, 6th from left) and his team met with the programme participants after holding an exhibition at the True Light Girls' College on June 10, 2014 
Participants assembling the woodcut Circle Limit III by M.C. Escher using mosaic tiles

The fish of Circle Limit III by Dutch artist M.C. Escher are fascinating – they are of the same size in the world of hyperbolic geometry, a geometry in which Albert Einstein used to depict space and time. To Dr Benny Ng of the Faculty of Science, they are more than just works of art. They are splendid examples of tessellation meeting imagination, of science meeting art.

That is a combination rarely studied in Hong Kong schools or appreciated by the general public. Dr Ng therefore decided to develop a project to inspire young people to see science and art beyond the distinct and separate domains that they encounter at school.

"People tend to treat science and the arts as two different extremes, but if you look at the products of civilization, at something like the pyramids, what we can see is a work of art combined with issues of design and building materials and how to put it all together. This is not just art and not just science, it is science and art," he said.

Dr Ng's Science and Art Crossover Project was organised in 2013 and 2014 to promote that idea to students aged 12 to 15.

Some 105 students joined the 2014 one-day programme which featured lectures on hidden art in nature, such as the patterns found in pineapples and sunflowers; the science behind origami; and the visual illusions behind animation.

Students also put the ideas they learned into practice, which is where Escher came in. One group was tasked with creating an Escher staircase using Lego bricks and producing an animation of their work. Students also created other artwork involving scientific principles. Their works were displayed in a six-month travelling exhibition that also aimed to raise awareness about science.

"The point we are trying to make is that science and the arts are around us all the time. We need to stop a moment and look. I know it's not easy in Hong Kong but we can learn a lot from taking that moment," Dr Ng said.

The students certainly got their moment and it changed their minds. When asked before the programme whether they preferred science or art, everyone chose one or the other. When asked the same question afterwards, 42 per cent selected both.

Dr Ng said he hoped the science and art project could continue. He is also looking at other ways to engage public interest in science, such as setting up a HKU Sci-Tube Channel. In this coming year, he and Dr Jessica Leung will partner with Go.Asia and HK Electric Home Management Centre to organize a SciChef cooking competition. Please visit HKU Sci-Tube Channel on YouTube to watch the lectures and project highlight.

Dr Benny C. H. Ng and team members, Dr William M. Y. Cheung, Dr Chi-wang Chan, Dr Rachel K. W. Lui and Dr Jessica S. C. Leung, received the Faculty Knowledge Exchange Award 2014 of the Faculty of Science for the 'Science and Art Crossover Project - Visualizing Science via Creative Lens & Interactive Art'.