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Art Influencing Science

Breakthroughs in science have captivated many dreamers, turning into their muse for art and literature. It is rare to see the reverse effect—but these innovators are determined to change that.

One up-and-coming company, Oxford Photovoltaics, a subdivision of the science departments of Oxford University in England, observed that “less than one percent of the world’s electricity is generated by solar power.” The company’s mission is to offset the negative emissions released by fossil fuels and other means of power. They are slowly accomplishing this by changing the way the world uses glass for construction, with solar panels as their main target.

Oxford Photovoltaics is improving ordinary solar panels such as silicon and copper indium gallium selenide cells, by adding a tandem layer of cells. This layer of solar cells will be three microns thick, interwoven with a compound called perovskite which boosts the performance of silicon by going over top of the cells and absorbing more infrared light. These cells are produced in a variety of colors that look like stained glass. Black has the highest absorbency of infrared light, followed by green, red and blue.

Art Influencing ScienceBuilding with photovoltaic cells. (Image Source: Nanalyze)

A typical solar cell treatment costs an extra 60-100 euros per metre of glass. The average cost of solar panels is around $11,000. While the cost of the cell treatment is higher, the investment pays off in energy savings. Oxford Photovoltaics deploys this technology in places where solar energy struggles to make a difference such as commercial buildings in large cities.

After deployment to urban settings, can these colorful photovoltaic cells be used for art, like the murals that so often grace city walls? Or more generally, can art enhance scientific discovery to produce masterpieces in both fields, and have a grander impact on society? 

Industrial designer Doug Dietz seems to answer a confident ‘yes’ to the latter question. Dietz redesigned Magnetic Imaging machines (MRI) and CT scanning rooms in the University of Pittsburgh hospital in Pennsylvania. This project, in partnership with GE Healthcare, is called the MR Adventure Discovery Series and is intended to create positive experiences for pediatric patients.

MRI scans require patients to lie on their back and stay completely still for 10-30 minutes at a time. They are positioned on a hard, metal bed, and slid into a machine that makes strident sounds and omits bright flickering lights. One can assume that this uncomfortable task for adult patients would seem downright horrifying for children. The majority of patients under the age of nine require sedation for the procedure so that they can be still enough for X-rays to be useful in analysis of medical problems. Anxiety for families begins upon hearing the news that their child will need an MRI scan, and only escalates until the day of the appointment, when some young patients become hysterical.

Art Influencing Science Dietz’s “Pirate Island” X-ray room. (Image Source: flickr)

The results of the project were tremendous. “In fiscal year 2011, 47,309 patients were seen and only 14% of them were sedated.”

DVD players to watch movies during the procedure, CD players with themed sounds or music, aromatherapy, and hospital staff dressed as characters fitting each theme come standard with each room. Even better, each room has special details that capture kids’ attention. In the Pirate Adventure room, patients walk in on a dock — then they walk the plank to be scanned. The Coral City in the emergency room has a disco ball that makes light bubbles while children get into a yellow submarine and listen to the sound of harps during the procedure.  

Innovations like these improve potentially uncomfortable environments and help children overcome challenges, allowing people to see that art and science need not belong in two separate categories. When the two disciplines are intertwined, powerful things can happen.  

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Art Influencing Science