It’s one thing to know that Chicago is the third largest city in the United States or that the fastest growing metropolitan areas are in the West and the South, but how can we see it? Data technologist Spencer Schien answers that question with an ongoing series of population density maps of states, rivers, and coastlines. In his work with nonprofits and NGOs, he uses R programming language to generate data visualizations that help organizations target where their services are most needed.
To compile the maps, Schien digs into the Kontur Population dataset, a publicly accessible project that layers global population numbers derived from sources like the Global Human Settlement Layer—a tool for assessing the presence of people on the planet—along with Microsoft’s Building Footprints and Facebook. He then translates statistical information about specific regions into highly contrasted maps utilizing Rayshader. The more densely populated an area is, the higher the bars rise. Atlanta, for example, is more than 137 square miles with around 4,200 people per square mile, and the map illustrates this as a mass of red amidst surroundings of more rural areas in green.
Currently based in Milwaukee where he works as the Senior Manager of Data & Analytics for City Forward Collective, Schien focuses on building the maps and other statistical visualizations using open-source tools that help to alleviate financial barriers to information. You can find more of his work on his website.
Share this story
In an ethereal animation by London-based CGI artist Markos Kay, a mysterious world is in the process of forming. “aBiogenesis” reimagines the origin of life in a mesmerizing rendering of the lipid world hypothesis—a theory suggesting that the first self-replicating, cell-like objects were composed of a kind of fatty acid that could not dissolve in water. The hypothesis postulates that lipids may have formed into generative bilayers in the oceans. “These bilayers would have acted like tiny bubbles or bags, enclosing and protecting the chemical reactions that would eventually give rise to life,” he says.
Kay has focused on the intersection of art and science in his practice, utilizing digital tools to visualize biological or primordial phenomena. “aBiogenesis” focuses a microscopic lens on imagined protocells, vesicles, and primordial foam that twists and oscillates in various forms.
Share this story
The ‘Pillars of Creation’ Glow in Remarkable Detail in a Groundbreaking Image from NASA’s James Webb Telescope
In a small region within the vast Eagle Nebula—a 6,500 light-year journey from our solar system in the constellation Serpens—the iconic “Pillars of Creation” appear in a ghostly formation. Made of cool hydrogen gas and dust, these incubators for new stars are dense celestial structures that have survived longer than their surroundings. Ultraviolet light from incredibly hot newborn stars gradually erodes the surrounding space and illuminates the ethereal surfaces of the pillars and the streams of gas they emit.
Since July, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has released numerous photographs of the cosmos in unprecedented detail. To process this image, scientists combined captures taken with the telescope’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), which brought different elements into focus. Near-infrared light emphasizes the stars, including thousands of newly-formed orange spheres that hover around the columns. The saturated hues around the interstellar formations are visible thanks to the mid-infrared contribution, which highlights the diffused orange dust around the top, deep indigo of the densest regions, and bright neutral color of the pillars. Lava-red spots on the upper parts of the spires contain young, embedded stars that will continue to form for millions of years.
Share this story
Ulric Collette takes a scientific approach to family photos with his Genetic Portraits series. Since 2008, Collette has spliced images of one side of a face with that of a relative, juxtaposing their superficial traits with the inherited. The composites are both disorienting and revealing as they capture the continuity of bone structures and other similarities, in addition to differences like eye color or subtle shifts in the shape of lips or cheeks.
Each portrait varies in resemblance, with some, like the recent portrait of brothers Francis and Jerome, appearing to be a single person at first glance. Others require more comparison to find the similitude behind clear contrasts in hair or age. “Having photographed my daughter with her grandmother,” the Quebec City-photographer shares, “the result is astonishing as they look so much alike on this portrait, one could believe that it is the same person photographed at 50 years interval.”
In the decade Collette has been working on the series, he’s garnered quite a bit of interest from scientists and researchers, and the project was recently on view in the University of Wisconsin’s genetics department. Explore dozens of the portraits on the project site and Instagram. You also might enjoy this collection of doppelgängers. (via Kottke)
Share this story
Nathalie Miebach Weaves Data and Anecdotes into Expansive Sculptures to Raise Awareness of the Climate Crisis
For Boston-based artist Nathalie Miebach, art is a way to translate scientific data into a visual language of patterns and relationships. In 2007, when she first began to make works that explored weather and climate change, she wanted to better understand the science. “Each piece began with a specific question I had and then the sculpture would attempt to answer it. Over time, I began to be more interested not in how weather instruments record weather, but how we as a species respond to it,” she tells Colossal. “That’s when I began to look at extreme weather events such as floods, storms, and fires.”
Basketweaving plays a central role in Miebach’s practice as it both physically and metaphorically weaves together materials and information. The type of data she collects is both statistical and anecdotal, combining scientific inquiry with personal experiences. “Harvey’s Twitter SOS,” for example, translates 2017 data maps about Hurricane Harvey published by The New York Times. “The inner quilt is made up of shapes that map out income distribution in Houston and uses the city’s highway system as a visual anchor. Various types of information related to Harvey are stitched onto the quilt, including Twitter messages that were sent out during the storm,” she says. Each piece contains numerous pathways, repetitions, and connections, redolent of Rube Goldberg machines in which cause and effect play a central role.
During the past three years, the artist’s work also collates Covid-19 data alongside climate information. “Spinning Towards a New Normal,” on view currently at Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, translates Covid-19 infection, death, and vaccination rates for Germany, Italy, and Spain into the form of a spinning top with a plumb bob, representing the struggle of communities and economies to find stability. “We are not invincible, and neither is this planet,” she warns. “For the first time in human history, we have all experienced how vulnerable we can be as a species. The recent work I have been doing is trying to look at these broader environmental changes we are now seeing through this lens of vulnerability.”
You can see Miebach’s work in All Hands On: Basketry at Staatliche Museen zu Berlin through May 25, 2023, and Climate Action, Inspiring Change at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, through June 25, 2023. Explore more of her work on her website and follow updates on Instagram.
Share this story
A photographer known for using the macro to investigate the micro, Levon Biss (previously) continues his explorations into the vast world of entomology. His recent butterfly pupae series centers on “the diversity of design and form” through illuminating portraits of approximately 30 specimens as they undergo metamorphosis and complete the final, most vulnerable stage of the transition from adolescence to adulthood.
Otherworldly and bordering on the bizarre, many of the chrysalises have evolved to be deceptive in appearance, acting as necessary camouflage from potential predators by impersonating nearby plants and surroundings: some mimic the natural, like those that imitate a rotting plantain or mossy hunk of bark, while others are more artful, like those spotted with Kusama-esque dots or cloaked in a mirrored gold coating. The photographs are “intended to be both entertaining and educational,” Biss shares, “allowing the viewer to appreciate the diversity in the subject whilst appreciating the intricate details that evolution has created.”
Pick up a print of the unearthly images, and find more from the collection on Biss’s site and Instagram. If you’re in New York, you can also see his Extinct and Endangered series at the American Museum of Natural History.
Share this story
Editor's Picks: Science
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.