Research shows the success of a bacterial community depends on its shape.
Former landscape photographer Felice Frankel is still focused on visual aesthetics, but these days her camera is capturing the dazzling blues and umbers of nanosensors, the luminous fuchsia planes of microrotors and the delicate translucent contours of bacterial colonies. Her color photographs are featured in On the Surface of Things: Images in Science and Technology by Felice Frankel at the MIT Museum's Compton Gallery.
An artist in residence at MIT and a visiting lecturer in electrical engineering and computer science, Ms. Frankel illustrates cutting-edge research in biology, chemistry, physics and other disciplines using microscopic photography and digital imaging. While much of her work has been produced at MIT, she has also created images in research labs at Harvard, Brandeis, Lehigh, the University of Chicago and the University of California at Davis. Now based in MIT's Edgerton Center, Ms. Frankel is one of the first artists supported by the MIT Office of the Art's Artist-in-Residence Program to work with students and faculty exclusively in science-based programs.
Ms. Frankel's emphasis on the beauty inherent in science is calculated. She believes that bringing an aesthetic component to scientific documentation is an essential and underutilized method of making science more accessible to the masses.
Alan Lightman, head of the MIT Writing Program and author of Einstein's Dreams and a number of other works of essays and fiction, describes Ms. Frankel's marriage of art and science as "a happy union and a deep one." Said Dr. Lightman, "These spellbinding colors and textures and filigrees, captured with Frankel's keen eye, remind us that much of our sense of beauty derives from the endless variety of phenomena we find in the natural world. Every image is a scientific question, a wonderment, a poem."
In collaboration with research scientists, Ms. Frankel also creates images for publications including Science, Nature, Cellular Biology, Langmuir and Discover. Her images have been particularly popular on campus, evidenced by shots on the covers of the 1996-97 MIT Facts and the faculty/staff and student directories, as well as several brochures and other publications.
A book of her images, also titled On the Surface of Things, with text by noted Harvard chemist George M. Whitesides, will be published by Chronicle Books in the fall.
In addition to a Guggenheim fellowship, Ms. Frankel has received \grants from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. She studied at Harvard as a Loeb Fellow from 1991-92.
After a five-month run at the Compton Gallery, On the Surface of Things will be at the Museum's main exhibition center from July 15 through November 2. The exhibition is made possible with funding from the MIT Council for the Arts and the Edgerton Center.
For further information, call the Museum's exhibition hotline at x3-4444.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 5, 1997.