Science is boring. Art is Stupid. Prove us wrong.
These are the words that launched the annual Art of Science exhibition at Princeton University. The exhibit highlights examples of accidental art – images and video collected in the process of doing science that somehow go beyond the numeric values of their pixels. This year I was excited to have four of my photographs included in the exhibit.
Taking photos while doing research gives students and scientists a chance to embrace their curiosity. There’s a lot more freedom behind a lens than we typically experience while designing and carrying out highly precise experiments in the lab. Two of the photos featured in the exhibit happen to be photos I shot while conducting experiments last November with Clint Penick and the Dunn Lab at North Carolina State University. Clint and I went to graduate school in the Social Insect Research Group at Arizona State and are now working together to figure out how environmental temperature affects the cohesive nature of social insect colonies. We designed a series of experiments to measure the oxygen consumption of whole colonies of winnow ants (Aphaenogaster rudis) collected from different latitudes and acclimated to a wide range of temperatures. The results of these studies will help us to examine how environmental conditions affect colony-level behaviors, metabolic rates, and energetic efficiency.
Having been inspired by the beautiful insect photography of Lauren Nichols and Alex Wild, I tried taking a few photos of the ants that Clint and I were studying during our downtime in the experiments. Mostly, they ran around too fast to follow, but one lucky shot (“Sense of Place”) captured an individual winnow ant hiding inside a piece of tubing. The tube connected her colony to our experimental setup, and she stood still while ever so slightly extending her antennae out to sense the surroundings when the flash went off.