Visualizing Science Syllabus

Special Topics: Visualizing Science Arts 490

Professor elin o’Hara slavick 

TA Anna Delgado        

GRC Gongting Wu


Behavioral research, an indispensable tool for social scientists, can be used to understand and comment on our lives. Controlled experiments allow us to measure and reflect on issues ranging from inequality to advertising, the taste of beer to medical conflicts of interest, and social networks. It is a fantastic way to test whether our intuitions about the world are true and figure out when, how, and why we are wrong. And although there are many differences between the worlds of Science and Art, both can provide useful social commentary. Interestingly, it is these very differences that invite a discussion between the two. We hope that, through this project, the scientific and artistic approaches can fertilize one another and open the lines of communication among two fields that have so much in common, but speak to one another so rarely.

- Dan Ariely / Artistically Irrational website:

This class is an experiment. Inspired by Behavioral Economist and Duke Professor Dan Ariely, students will work collaboratively – with scientists and each other – to visually manifest scientific ideas, theories, data and discoveries. The course is designed for serious students who wish to engage in a close analysis and exploration of the intersections of art and science, formally and conceptually. The class is designed to help you simultaneously think scientifically and visually and to make art through a conceptual model or framework. The use of all technically possible and theoretically appropriate media is encouraged. We will have several group critiques, video/film presentations, guest speakers – both artists and scientists, and reading discussions about historical and contemporary intersections of art and science. We will aim to have a group exhibition in the Undergraduate Art Gallery (or elsewhere). Feel free to email me to discuss any problems, ideas for projects, or to set up a meeting outside of class. PLEASE BE SURE TO USE: (even though my emails will come from my UNC account via Sakai). Generally, Mondays will be for reading discussions and looking at art and Wednesdays will be open lab/research time for you/students to meet/work with your scientists/collaborators.



Read more by downloading the full syllabus:

Previously Attached Documents: 


This looks like a fabulous course, and a great idea. I have two comments/questions:

I am curious as to why the subject of killing animals has such a high profile in the reading list. One of the most pressing issues for many of us who teach science is actually assisting students to perceive really abstract concepts - such as electron orbitals, the ways chromosomes interact over time during cell division and the subtlties of structure-function relationships in biological systems. It would be great to see artists and scientists collaborating here rather than sticking to the more limited (but probably more familiar) arena of animal ethics. Many areas of science that truly need the creative influence of talented artistists have nothing to do with animal use at all.

The other is - How could the outcomes of this course impact on or assist people who have some form of physical impairment? I notice that the syllabus mentions videos and visualisation. What about creating works that make content accessible to people who have no sight? Can you imagine a sound-scape or installation that would capture the wonders of  e.g. a living cell? This would be a truly wonderful achievement.


One needs to remember that the division between art and science is an academic distinction encouraged by the structure of the university and the established ways of credentialing. It was not this way when universities were established and the rise of the internet and the nascent mixing of disciplines, though narrowly defined currently, is challenging this divisin at more than the boundaries.

It is unfortunate that the perpetuation of this distinction continues. There is such a rich body of significant contributions to knowledge, planetary well-being and aethetics that exists at the currently accepted intersection, often parsed by the lens through which it is viewed.