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Origins of Life Experiment #1.2

Image 1 of Origins of Life Experiment #1.2 Exhibit

Photos by Adam Brown

On exhibit through May 2011

Science and art intersect in a new MSU Museum exhibit, where glass tubing, gas bottles, bubbling liquids and zapping electricity form a working science experiment and a work of art.

Image 2 of Origins of Life Experiment #1.2 Exhibit "Origins of Life Experiment #1.2" reinterprets the landmark Miller-Urey experiment, first conducted in the 1950s. The physicist Harold Urey proposed that it might be possible to recreate the atmosphere of the primordial Earth in a closed container and synthesize organic molecules by adding an energy source such as lightning to the mix. A graduate student by the name of Stanley Miller carried out the experiment producing, within days, several amino acids. The Miller-Urey experiment quickly became a scientific and public icon of origins of life experimentation.

"To provoke non-scientist participation in our experiment, we have recreated Miller's experiment as an art installation," explains Adam Brown, an associate professor of electronic art and intermedia in the Department of Art and Art History. "By placing the experiment in an artscience context, we draw attention to the fact that all experimentation is artifice. There is an aesthetic to this scientific artifice just as there is an aesthetic to more traditional art."

Experimental art has the same sensory aspects as any other art, notes Robert Root-Bernstein, professor of physiology and a co-developer of the "Origins" exhibit. "Visitors see the boiling water, the sparks of the Marx generator, the subtle colors produced by the chemical reactions. They hear the zap of the electricity, the glass ringing from the super-heated gases inside the bulb. They sense the radiation of the heater, the cool moisture of the condenser."

Image 3 of Origins of Life Experiment #1.2 Exhibit Through all these sensory experiences, the exhibition, on view through May, literally sparks curiosity and invites visitors to question, "What's going on here?"

"The 'Origins of Life' is a multimedia work of art -- and a time machine," observes MSU Museum Director Gary Morgan. "The viewer is challenged by this type of installation - Is it art? Is it science? Well, it can be enjoyed as both, and in stimulating that conversation, the work stimulates thought about both human creativity and the scientific subject matter of the artwork.

"Museums are primarily places to excite minds, and exhibits like Origins of Life do precisely that," Morgan adds.

"Origins of Life Experiment #1.2" was lead by the team: Adam Brown, Department of Art, Maxine Davis, Lyman Briggs College; and Robert Root-Bernstein, Department of Physiology.

Root-Bernstein and Brown, an artist in residence with the BEACON (Bio/Computational Evolution in Action Consortium), created a prototype in the summer, "Origins of Life Experiment #1" for a conference at MSU.

Learn more here: http://adamwbrown.net/projects-2/origins-of-life-experiment-1/