Tag Archives: Scientific Art

Collision of Science and Art

Collision of Science and Art


What do you see below?

A cornfield?

Caffeine 4 p.m.

Caffeine 4 p.m. by Lee Hendrickson

A storm over the Atlantic?

Seven Seas

Seven Seas by Lee Hendrickson

A side view of bolts of fabric?

Blues and Blues

Blues and Blues by Lee Hendrickson

Last month I attended the Arizona Fine Art Expo (it’s still going on, by the way, so get out there if you can), and I was blown away by some of the artists, and in particular, by Lee Hendrickson.

With an AA degree in biomedical photography and a BS in biology, Hendrickson worked as a research scientist for thirty-five years, putting in a lot of hours looking through a microscope. The beauty he discovered hidden in microscopic structures magnified thousands of times he now reveals through his photography.


While at the Expo, he worked with his Olympus BH2 microscope (with trinocular head) attached to a Canon 5D (20mp) camera. The digital images load directly to his laptop. See the glass slides laid out on the edge of the table? They contain drops of solutions that dried, forming crystals.

So, the cornfield at the top of this post? It’s really the crystalline structure of caffeine. (Who knew coffee was so beautiful?)

The ocean? It’s actually crystalline resveratrol grown in Seven Falls 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon.

And the fabrics? Crystalline citric acid.

The crystals are actually colorless. The vibrant hues are the result of refraction as light passes through them from a source below the slide. The crystals act as a prism, dividing the light into its spectrum. And the actual size of the crystals that appear in the photographs is no larger than the head of a pin.

Here are some more of Hendrickson’s photographs, and below each, the identification of the crystal pictured:

Arabesque #2

Arabesque #2 by Lee Hendrickson

Crystalline Truvia (a non-caloric sweetener from Stevia plant).

First Light

First Light by Lee Hendrickson

Crystalline phenylethylamine (found in chocolate).


Kaleidoscope by Lee Hendrickson

Crystalline citric acid.

Innocence Lost

Innocence Lost by Lee Hendrickson

Crystalline citric acid.

Morning Glory

Morning Glory by Lee Hendrickson

Crystalline phenylethylamine (found in chocolate).


Snowfall by Lee Hendrickson

Crystalline acetaminophen.


Whispers by Lee Hendrickson

Crystalline resveratrol grown in Arizona Stronghold Mangus Red Blend 2011.

Yellow, Black & Blues

Yellow, Black & Blues by Lee Hendrickson

Crystalline citric acid.

Uptown Downtown

Uptown Downtown by Lee Hendrickson

Crystalline phenylethylamine found in chocolate.

So, why do some of the same crystals produce such different images? Hendricks explains that the different solvents used, and varying drying conditions such as drying time, temperature, or humidity, can cause the crystals to grow in a variety of patterns, which will refract light differently.

Here is a video Hendrickson made of crystals growing:

To learn more about Lee Hendrickson’s work, or to purchase one of his prints, visit his website, Photography of Crystals.


Divine Proportions

Divine Proportions

I recently attended a lecture about the interface between science and faith. One of my fellow audience members, a woodworker named Ed Bond, mentioned The Golden Ratio. Specifically, he focused on the Golden Rectangle, which influences the dimensions of the tables he creates.

I am going to oversimplify this, because I just don’t know how to explain it clearly without using a lot of words. (My mathematician daughter would do a much better job. She gets this. She also has a Fibonacci spiral tattooed on her shoulder—more about that later.)

The Golden Ratio is a phenomenon that occurs in nature and mathematics, and has been used by engineers and artists for millennia. Plato knew about it, and referred to it in his Timeas when describing three-dimensional geometric solids. It refers to the relationship between measurements a and b where a is to b as a + b is to a.

Golden ratio

The Golden Ratio is known by the Greek letter phi, and like another mathematical concept, pi, has an infinite, unrepeating sequence of numbers following its decimal point. Phi’s approximate value is 1.618. In the equation (a + b) / a = a / b, if a = 1, then (a + b) = 1.618…

Ed Bond says he likes to build tables whose sides are multiples of 1.5 x 2.5—for example, a 3-foot by 5-foot coffee table. The dimensions look good; they feel “right.” That ratio is 1:1.666…, approximating that magic number, phi. He says it’s no accident that the humble index card is 3 inches by 5 inches.

Golden Rectangle

Le Corbusier, a Swiss-French architect (1887-1965), claimed that the human form, subdivided at the navel, yields the Golden Ratio; and if you subdivide those sections further, at the knees and throat, they also fall into the same ratio. Leonardo da Vinci’s famous drawing Vitruvian Man is often used to illustrate this idea (though, actually, the math in the artwork doesn’t match).

Vitrutian Man

This drawing by Heinrich Agrippa (1486-1535) is a better representation:


Phi turns up frequently in geometry. In Salvador Dali’s The Sacrament of the Last Supper, the edges of the dodecahedron framework conform to the Golden Ratio.

Dali Last Supper

The Golden Ratio manifests again in the Fibonacci sequence, which is a sequence of numbers starting with 1 (or sometimes 0) and then you add the preceding two numbers to get the next number: (0,) 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, etc. Starting with 5, if you divide any number in the sequence by its preceding number, the result is close to phi. The sequence can be used to generate a spiral shape (don’t ask me how). This is the shape tattooed on my daughter’s shoulder. It suggests the inner pattern of the multi-chambered nautilus shell and the Snail Trail quilt block.

Fibonacci spiralnautilus-cutaway-shellsnail trail

Getting back to woodworking, Ed Bond wondered how long the Golden Ratio has been used in making furniture. One day, while reading the Bible, he found God’s directions to Moses for building some of the furnishings for the Tent of Meeting. For the Ark of the Covenant, God said, “Have them make a chest of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high” (Ex. 25:10 NIV). “Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide” (Ex. 25:17). There it is, God’s own design, executed before 1400 B.C., incorporating the Golden Ratio.

It was His idea. God determined the laws of mathematics and physics. God created all of nature. We discover the mysteries of the universe through science and math; we celebrate them through art.

If you would like a more thorough explanation of the Golden Ratio, read this article.

In your own creative work, does mathematics or science come into play? Share in the comments below.