• Barbara Hepworth: Project for Wood and Strings, Trezion II, 1959; oil, gesso, pencil on board; 14 7/8 x 21 1/8 in.; Mead Art Museum, Amherst College; gift of Richard S. Zeisler (Class of 1937). © Bowness.
  • Cathryn Carson. Photo: Keegan Houser
  • David Eisenbud
  • James Hurley. Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small
  • Alex Filippenko. Photo: Steve McConnell
  • Vanja Malloy


Colloquium: When Science Entered Modern Art

Four leading UC Berkeley faculty members (historian of science Cathryn Carson, mathematician David Eisenbud, astrophysicist Alex Filippenko, and biophysicist James Hurley) are joined by the curator of Dimensionism (Vanja Malloy) for a colloquium offering a fascinating look at how scientific advances of the early to mid-twentieth century were visualized in the media of the day and made their way into modern art. Each will present popular visualizations of scientific ideas in the media of the day, and explain the significance of the science itself. 

Professor of History Cathryn Carson, Thomas M. Siebel Chair in the History of Science, specializes in the intellectual, cultural, and political history of the twentieth-century sciences, especially physics. She holds graduate degrees both in the history of science and in physics. Carson will provide crucial context for the developments in scientific thinking at the time, exploring the larger continuum between scientific and cultural realms.

Professor of Mathematics David Eisenbud is director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a director of Math for America, a foundation devoted to improving the teaching of mathematics. Eisenbud will address the fourth dimension through Edwin Abbott’s 1884 book Flatland, now considered a classic of mathematical popularization. Through the lens of the book, he will explain how time can be seen as a spatial dimension—a pillar of Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Astrophysicist Alex Filippenko is the Richard & Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor in the Physical Sciences and a Miller Senior Fellow in the Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science. Filippenko, voted the “Best Professor” on campus a record nine times, has described himself as addicted to observing total solar eclipses. He writes: “The 1919 solar eclipse expedition led by British astrophysicist Arthur Eddington resulted in the first quantitative observational confirmation of a major prediction of Einstein’s general theory of relativity—the bending of starlight by the sun.” He will discuss the theory and the images, and how this work transformed Einstein into a household name.

Biophysicist James Hurley, Judy C. Webb Chair and Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Structural Biology, will discuss how the DNA double helix—the iconic image of biology—was first visualized by x-ray diffraction, and how the images were disseminated at the time of discovery. Hurley has a passion for the interface between the sciences and arts, and is a published poet.

Vanja Malloy, curator of American art at the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College and organizer of Dimensionism, will address the artwork in the exhibition and how it variously reflects developments in scientific thinking. Malloy’s doctoral dissertation, Rethinking Alexander Calder: Astronomy, Relativity, and Psychology, currently being revised for publication, explores the complex and revelatory intersections of modern art and science.