A long blog in which I talk about the last two days of exciting science-ing (with photos!)
I'm really happy with how the Month of Science is going so far. I assumed it would take a while to feel like I was in the flow, but I'm already reaping the rewards of the freedom of this multifaceted study and research routine. I can make my own hours, with very little distraction. I can study as long as I'd like, as late or early as I'd like, and I can switch between my study methods however I like. I can easily decide to go from watching lectures on the visual cortex, to dissecting an eyeball, to hitting the books, to practicing using my new equipment, and when it starts to turn into real artistic inspiration, I can switch to the drawing table as well.
Day 3 in the Lab- Using my new tools
Today has been a success so far. After I'm finished writing down my thoughts, I'm going to hit the books.
I learned about some specifics about color vision today via Peter Schiller's lectures on MIT. This lecture was a little light for the complexity of the subject, and was generally pretty light in comparison to most of his lectures, but it was idea-inducing. This is actually part of the reason I'm hitting the books after this. I'd like to round out what I learned with some nitty gritty specifics. I really like Peter Schiller's lectures. If you're interested in this sort of thing, I suggest checking out his course on Sensory Input on the MIT website.
After that, I played (practiced ) with some new equipment. I tested out my hand microtome by slicing into a fairly firm specimen. For my slides of brain tissue, I will need to use paraffin wax first, but to get the general use of the microtome, this test worked just fine. You could try this with a carrot and get pretty good results too. I grabbed a raw unripe walnut from the backyard and tested it out. It's pretty straight forward, though I need to practice my technique. I put the thin slice on a slide and put it under the compound microscope (whom I'm thinking of calling Bones, naming the Stereo Microscope Jim) I then tested staining it with two different stains, Methylene Blue and Carbol Fuchsin. Below are my results.
These are all photos from my phone (Galaxy S5) through the viewer. My laptop died and I was too excited to see the results to wait for it to boot back up. I also tested out my first attempt to make these into permanent slides using a mounting medium. If it works out, I will pop them back under the microscope and get images from the software imager as well. (Note on that; the software doesn't actually allow me to get video, so my husband Tab is going to 3D print an adapter for our GoPro, with its massive sensor soon. I'll be getting most of my images and video from that in the future).
Long Term Art Planning- too many ideas!
The problem with studying science is that it fills you with ideas. Yes, this is a good thing, but the more you learn, the more ideas you get. From my studies so far, I have ideas for a full series on the eye. (There are already ideas for 9 drawings on the eye) I would like to draw all of these, but I'm a little concerned my fans and my kickstarter backers might be less pleased. The more time I take on the eye series, the more time it will be until I start work on the spine and brain. So the question is, do I go with my inspiration or do I reign it in for the benefit of those who supported this scientific adventure in the first place? I'm hoping I find a middle ground.
Out of the Lab for Museum Mashup at PAM
Last night I accompanied fellow science-loving artists, Sara and Kindra, to a lecture at the Portland Art Museum. The event was called Museum Mashup (which is a quarterly event, that you should definitely put in your calendar or something), and their goal was to showcase the interconnection between art and science. To do so, they had scientist Richard Taylor speak about trials and advances on Bionic Eyes, and pianist David Saffert who spoke about accompaniment and performed some beautiful music. A local Opera singer (whose name I can't remember at the moment- sorry!) graced us with an amazing performance from Carmen. To top it off, the event is hosted by Portland's very funny comedian, Bri Pruett, who makes any event more awesome. Yeah, it was a pretty good night, and well worth leaving the lab for a few hours.
I personally loved Richard Taylor's talk on Bionic Eyes, specifically regarding an implant that aims to improve vision for the blind (useful for those suffering from macular degeneration, etc, but apparently not for those who are born blind). The sensor receives incoming light stimulation and carries that out to the RGCs making up for the damaged photo receptors in that area. The talk inspired many questions and ideas, and I was lucky enough to get the chance to bounce some of those questions off him after the event. He graciously answered my questions, and I was happy to find that many of my ideas were on point. :) Some of the issues they're addressing in the coming years regarding improving acuity etc are fascinating, and I can't wait to hear how they deal with them. Some of my questions:
How is the signal from the implant organized in the LGN and higher visual cortex? Is there arny change in topographical organization? Are there any convergence problems?
Is the signal modulated or altered?
Is it transmitting signals from on and off bipolar cells? If not, then is the image you are getting similar to what we would see with mostly rod cells and only half of the cone cells in that region, (making it seem like seeing peripheral vision straight on)?
How can you make a sensor transmit both sign conserving and sign inverting charges quickly and accurately?
What is the sensor made of? What material would be better for the job?
Anyway, it was an engaging talk and I'm happy I went. Richard Taylor is someone you should probably check out if you don't know him. He has done work on connecting science and art for many years and has a strong fascination with fractals. Here is a short essay from him about his experience with intersecting art and science, called "From Science to Art and Back Again" . Below is a video from his Tedx talk.
Okay, back to the books. Thanks for anyone with the patience and interest to read this whole very long blog post.