Rediscovering science in photo exhibition

  • Arts
  • Saturday, 14 Dec 2013

Elizabeth H. Blackburn used emoticons and sound effects in her sketch.

A double-bill photo exhibition puts a face to Nobel Laureates and prominent Malaysian scientists.

THERE was nothing special about the drawings. Aesthetically, they were not appealing. Not a great feat in the artistic world. Leonardo da Vinci would have spurned them. Mere doodles they would have been to his eyes.

But not so the people who drew these sketches.

They would have stood as his equals. They may not be the best of artists in the world but they are the brightest minds on Earth.

And putting a face on these Nobel Laureates, who otherwise may go unnoticed by the masses, is German photographer Volker Steger.

Aaron Ciechanover’s sketch reads like a modern poem.

Titled Sketches of Science: Photo Sessions With Nobel Laureates (SOS), this travelling photographic exhibition, now at Galeri Petronas in Kuala Lumpur, was a playful experiment by Steger, where he presented Nobel laureates a piece of paper and a box of crayons and asked them to draw their discoveries. Then, he photographed the laureates together with their sketches in a very lighthearted manner.

In the SOS catalogue, Steger said, “Such a portrait could show the Laureates and their discoveries in a very personal way. The idea was to get something spontaneous. Indeed, the sketches turned out to be as varied as the Nobel Laureates who drew them.”

This exhibition is a collaboration between the Nobel Museum and the Foundation Lindau Nobel Prize Winners Meeting.

“What inspired us with this exhibition is how this concept allows the scientists to show their personality, which is very diverse. When you look at the photographs, you would notice that all of them have one thing in common. They are happy and they are playful.

“They deal with serious topics but they enjoy what they do and that is the main purpose of this exhibition,” shared Dr Ulf Larsson in a recent interview.

Elizabeth H. Blackburn used emoticons and sound effects in her sketch.

The common notions of scientists are that of rigidity, repetitive processes and humdrums. Or maybe, some may go as far as Dr Frankenstein himself. However, as Steger himself pointed out, these photographs show a very human side of the scientists.

This ismost evident in the photograph of Martin L. Chalfie, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2008 for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP.

Chalfie is seen sitting upright on the floor, holding his sketch, wearing a casual red Polo t-shirt, khakis and sandals!

What happened to proper lab attire one may ask, but that is exactly what Steger wishes to dispel via this exhibition, that scientists aren’t always as how we envision them. Amongst the 50 Nobel Laureates who are photographed are Richard R. Ernst, Oliver Smithies and Martin J. Evans, whose sketch was the head of a mouse, under which he wrote his own name. Evans won the Nobel prize for introducing specific gene modifications in mice by the use of embryonic stem cells.

Larsson, the Senior Curator of the Nobel Museum where the exhibition began in June 2012, went on to say that besides humanising the laureates and giving them a face, the exhibition could also act as an educational tool.

“How do you present science? If you look at their sketches, you would realise that some of them are very pedagogical, some are very casual and some are very reluctant.

“This is because they may not be used to visualising their discoveries as opposed to words and equations. So, these drawings can be used to make science interesting and accessible to people, especially the young ones,” Larsson reckoned.

Replicating this same concept in our home front is The Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) with the Faces Of Science (FOS) exhibition, which will run side by side with SOS. Purely an initiative by ASM, the FOS endeavours to recognise Malaysian scientists.

“We hope to show through this exhibition that there are Malaysian scientists who have achieved something in their field, internationally. We also want to make science attractive and interesting, especially to the young ones and inspire them to take up science,” said Tan Sri Datuk Dr Ahmad Tajuddin Ali, ASM’s president.

The Sketches Of Science and Faces Of Science exhibition is on till Jan 31 at Galeri Petronas Level 3, Suria KLCC. Free admission. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-8pm. For more info, visit‎

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