Science in Motion

Like so many other interesting ideas, Science in Motion was born out of a lively discussion in a pub. We’d been given a mission to create an artistic or abstract piece of science communication, incorporating ideas from various philosophies of science and Science and Technology Studies. Our lively chatter soon centered around two key themes: the sense of wonder in scientific discovery, and the notion of science as a craft.

The medium of stop-motion is in itself a metaphor for science. Like a scientific paper, our video seems to present a linear narrative of scientific discovery, presented in a straightforward way. In fact, the work is carefully and artificially constructed after the events took place, hiding errors, dead ends and a nonlinear photography process.

To highlight the craft aspect of science, we chose to use a generic, lab-coated set of hands to represent our anonymous scientist and his interactions with a range of objects on the work bench. Hands are remarkably expressive, able to both manipulate the environment and show a range of emotions. Rather than pinning our scientist down to a discipline, he instead deals with a range of colour-coded, three-dimensional, abstract science ‘bits’, which he draws from questioning, inspiration, data, collaboration and the literature.

We were aiming to highlight at a basic level the concept that science is about direct interaction with physical objects and their abstract representations. Further than that, we attempt to situate the scientist at the interface between nature and society, discovering new ‘things’ about the world and shaping them into ideas and objects which take on a life of their own in culture. The scientist must wrestle a combination of these ideas into that cherished prize in research – a paper – but faces a range of challenges before he finally is able to share his work with the world.

Nils Hanwahr, international hand model. Photograph: David Robertson

Another key theme was our critique of the concept of science as a puzzle. Positivist ideas, and later even the ideas of Karl Popper and his focus on falsification, suggest scientists will travel down a pathway which inevitably uncovers more and more of the full picture of reality. However, such a concept is naive – any given scientist will only ever see part of the picture, within the limitations of their knowledge and experience. Our scientist, after fighting off an invasion of red tape, puts together his ideas into a product which looks like a completed puzzle from one angle. But when looked at from other perspectives, there are holes, jagged edges and a clear indication that the work is far from finished.

Our narrative is one of a day in the life, but we recognise that science, as a creative process of discovery, manipulation and communication, is never finished. After the credits, new ideas have invaded the scientist’s bench, the paper is back from review and the process begins anew…

Science in Motion was made by Imperial Science Communication MSc students David Robertson, Morag Hickman and Nils Hanwahr.


One comment

  1. Great video! I love the bit where the origami shape is “squashed” into a finished paper. Great metaphor (though I wish it were that easy…!)

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