Science and Art

Over the past few years, I’ve occasionally posted about my work as an engineer and in particular about a software product of Mathworks called MATLAB©.  MATLAB allows us to analyze, simulate and understand complex processing techniques such as those used in radar, sonar and communications systems.  It’s my experience that while almost any engineer can use MATLAB, a small percentage can work wonders with it.  Part of MATLAB’s power comes from its use of multi-dimensional arrays of numbers and most MATLAB wizards seem to be able to visualize things in higher dimensions.  Are you bored out of your gourd yet?  Stay with me.  This is fun, I promise.

I am a MATLAB geek.   I’m not only really good at using it, I enjoy programming in MATLAB and discovering new capabilities the software provides.   One of those capabilities is an amazing graphical output … it can produce full color graphs and pictures allowing a scientist to visualize his results from any angle he desires.  It can even produce movies to show how the results change over time.  Many engineers never get beyond seeing the pictures MATLAB produces as scientific results.  Most people would not consider me most engineers.   I’ve always thought many of the graphs are beautiful in their own right.  Take, for example, the spectrogram at the right which shows the sound coming from a vehicle.  Simple mathematical functions produce intriguing undulating shapes when displayed as MATLAB movies. For example, this one from YouTube shows trig functions.

Graphical solutions to differential equations produce beautiful cascading spirals.

So, my right brain leans over and whispers to my left brain, I think we could make real art with MATLAB, and my left brain says, Looks like art to me already.   Trying not to scare off Leftie, right brain says, Well, the graphs are beautiful but they are defined by the underlying equations.   My left brain really likes it when my right brain talks equations, so he’s sure to listen.  What we have to do, my right brain continues, is come up with some ways for us to make the creative decisions, not the equations.   We choose the colors, just like when I paint, but instead of a paintbrush applying the colors, we choose how the colors are applied in the MATLAB code.  My right brain knows it’s time to set the hook.   I can’t do that without you, Leftie, and you’d get to learn some new MATLAB tricks.   Sounds good to me, my left brain says.   When do we start?

Well, we started yeaterday learning some very rudimentary techniques for dealing with color in images and, yes, movies.   And we produced our first piece of MATLAB art.  I won’t bore you with details but what you’re seeing is rectangles of random size and color placed randomly on a black background, with each square gradually fading to black over time.  The music is Keiko Matsui’s Crystal Show from Walls of Akendora.

It ain’t Picasso but it’s a start and we’re already looking at ways to bring some of my painted images into the process.   Yes, my right brain and my left brain are working together.  I suppose that could be dangerous.   Hopefully, we’ll have more to show you in the coming weeks.

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6 Comments on “Science and Art”

  1. Animal CSI Says:

    This. Is. Awesome. As a part-time scientific illustrator I can really appreciate the science behind the art. Can’t wait to see more.

    • oldereyes Says:

      I’m glad you liked it … it didn’t get the reaction I expected but then again, it looks like just a bunch of rectangles. I’ve been experimenting with using different random distributions as “brushstrokes” so that I can use fine or broad brushes to apply color. And by varying the number of samples on each brush stroke, I get a heavy or light touch. I’m getting some very interesting results starting with photos. I usually post art on Wednesday but I may not be able to wait.

  2. Coming East Says:

    I especially loved the first video, Bud. I wonder if my son uses MathLab when he writes his scientific papers because the graphs that appear in his articles are amazing.

  3. Gordon Says:

    I love the left-brain-right-brain inner dialog! “What we have to do, my right brain continues, is come up with some ways for us to make the creative decisions, not the equations.” — Exactly! 🙂


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