Life in optical

perspectives, photography and astronomy


Posts Tagged ‘Aesthetics’

Science visualisation at its best

How to display scientific data in a way that both inspires and respects the science? Not that science is ugly, but it’s definitely not trivial. Some images captivate us naturally, some, less so.

One of the biggest challenges is probably to display abstract, mathematical things with properties as obscure as fractional dimensions. This was first achieved a few decades ago with the beautiful fractals. Seeing fractals was one of the things that made me go study science. I would drool over Julia sets and admire the details of computer-generated mountain ranges.

Now, those same fractals are being imaged in three dimensions – and how beautiful they are!

These are called Mandelbulbs. Here is one example.

The guys who did this spent a couple of years working on the problem. In fact, it is really difficult. Most attempts would render something pretty but it wouldn’t be fractal. That is, you couldn’t zoom in indefinitely and keep seeing structure. Several people tried, building on each others’ attempts and eventually they came up with a solution. It seemed to work. They looked closer, and yes, it did work… almost.

But now, how to visualise it? This is new mathematics. You can’t just feed it into some 3D rendering software to produce an image of. It’s like asking Google to translate between R’lyehian and Klingon.

So the Mandelbulbians, in true geek fashion, wrote their own ray tracing routines and this is what resulted in these breathtaking images. Sheer eye candy. Our eyes love it, our brains have no idea what’s going on.

It doesn’t get much more obscure when it comes to understanding what this means, but it is really beautiful! This is visualisation at its best.

Shapes and colours, opposed and complementary, in a time of transition.


I love this photograph. It may not be particularly striking but it is one of those that captures everything that I mean to say with it. It changes focus and purpose depending on how you see it.

Red! On a green background, big red shapes take over the image. Variations in colour and intensity are the game these shapes play. The unit is the leaf. It is large. It is macroscopic. It is a rough mosaic.

Green! Between the big clumsy red blobs peek the sharp, thin blades of grass. But you can’t see them everywhere, they are only sharp in that shallow band that is in focus. They are the secretly weaved fabric of the image, the fibre, the straw. A canvas of grass.

Two complementary colours, equally bright and intense, whose textures are equally opposed. Yet in balance. And I see depth. It looks as if this carpeting goes on forever. From the top right to the bottom left, and that dark edge at the top, it looks like if we were to go far enough away from the surface, from the green canvas, some large face would emerge from the mosaic. But here, we only get a glimpse of it. Up to us to guess what it suggests.

And then the wind blows and draws another face.