Portraits of Science, and of the Inner Spirit of Scientific Activities
Paintings in this series give a glimpse of the scientific life by blending scientific processes, theories, discoveries, and concepts with some of the personal attributes and interests of the scientists who pursue them. The series primarily examines the remarkable complexity, diversity, and engineerability of living processes, while also portraying a range of contemporary scientific concepts.
Each image was painted for a specific colleague, mentor, student, collaborator, or intellectual partner who enriched Dr. Erik Winfree’s scientific life. Each blends the science that an individual has advanced with some aspect of their character, or their interests and hobbies, a pet theory, or some anecdote from their time spent with Dr. Winfree.
The original series is currently on exhibit at Caltech.
Machines can be programmed and ‘grown’ to do useful things. They could one day have a kind of consciousness, an attention capacity of their own. As yet no machine or technology compares to the complexity, efficiency, cooling capacity, or elegance of a real brain.
BIOLOGY AND SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY
Synthetic biologists can modify and ‘engineer’ the chemistry-based information coded within a cells’ DNA in order to affect the outcome of the cell’s function, and its interactions with other cells. Modern technology may yield information-based synthetic chemical systems with properties and capabilities comparable to those within biological systems.
Chemistry is the study of elements and compounds, their properties, composition, structure, and how energy is released or absorbed when they change.
Our analog brains, and the brains of many other organisms, have a higher computational capacity and efficiency than do computers. Pattern recognition, abstractions, algorithms and decomposition are four facets of our computational awareness and thought processes.
EVOLUTION AND THE ORIGIN OF LIFE
Vestiges and fundamental qualities of our earliest ancestors remain encoded within our cells today. Whether plant or animal, fungus or virus, each living thing culminates from a very long chain, bringing information from primordial times. All known life forms share a single common ancestor, a microbe believed to have embodied elementary predecessors for the machinery of modern life, still present in all cells, such as ribosomes and the genetic code. Mitochondrial DNA within human cells is the genetic signature passed from mother to child. Around 4 billion years ago Mitochondrial Eve spawned a creature whose progeny eventually became humanoid and then human.
Health and Medicine
Organisms are capable of self-healing to varying degrees. Science and technology can help organisms heal – sometimes a lot – and can diagnose, measure and monitor aspects of disease that are not normally observable by the organism.
Math is an ideal, a purity, useful for studying and hypothesizing messy physical realities. Good math is crucial to making controlled observations and discoveries. Objects (such as sets or functions) can be defined that are impossible to compute. In the absence of actual physical access to a problem, it can be guessed at, and even pinpointed using mathematical models. These impossible objects can provide insight and clarity about what’s possible or pragmatic.
Using rna structures in living cells as programmable sensors and controllers for cellular behavior, scientists can design and ‘grow’ molecules and molecular structures working together to perform functions, such as within a catalytic circuit, triggered assembly, autonomous locomotion, and more. Molecular programmers study the foundations and applications of programmable molecular machinery, from theoretical models of computation based on biochemistry to the experimental design and synthesis of complex devices and systems.
Organisms and individuals have many diverse ways of sensing, perceiving, and otherwise being aware of the world, depending upon their sensorium, be it ganglia, megnetorecepticism, echolocation, navigation, or cell memory. Humans’ nerves pervade and affect our every perception, function, response, development, and reflection. Branched protoplasmic extensions of nerve cells, dendrites, propagate electrochemical stimulation received from other neural cells, or soma.
MYSTERIES AND PHILOSPHY OF SCIENCE
Physicists study the properties of matter and energy in nature – heat, light and other radiation, electricity, magnetism, and the dynamics of microscopic and macroscopic particles.
Science is a discipline, an endeavor, an adventure into the bizarre and unusual. Generations of scientists have refined enduring thought paths across eons, developing and building upon what their predecessors discovered and invented. Generations of scientific thinking and research have led to today’s understanding of the world around us.
Nature tends to build dynamic systems by assembling micro into macro and macro into supermacro. Self assembly is a ubiquitous natural process at the molecular scale (crystals, viruses, cytoskeletons) and macroscopic scale (dust bunnies, sand dunes, stars).