Monday, June 3, 2013

Collaboration in Art and Science

This past weekend, I visited the Dalí exhibition at the Museum of the Reina Sofía in Madrid. Dalí was much more prolific than I had realized (thus my walk through the galleries took twice as long as I had anticipated) and he was a (very disturbed) genius. But the real surprise was how much his trajectory had crossed other great artists in his and in distant fields. For example, he worked with Hitchcock on Spellbound. He worked with Luis Buñuel on a number of his movies, and with Disney on a pair of animated shorts. He is also well known for his ups and downs with his fellow surrealists and his willingness to monetize his craft through so-called Avida Dollars. It's amazing that art which appears to be so individualized is evidently quite collaborative.

In similar fashion, the progress of science is extremely collaborative. One often thinks of the great physicists acting alone while laying down the foundation for quantum mechanics, but it was the Copenhagen interpretation (born from collaboration) and presented at Solvay in 1927 that truly cemented the foundation. In today's world, scientists, great and small, necessarily collaborate. That's why I'm here in Madrid in the first place. I'm working with complex dynamicists at the Politéchnica, a mathematical chemist at the Autónoma, and a mathematical physicist at Loughborough. Together, we're trying to make sense of the structure of the multi-dimensional surface that separates reactants from products. It turns out that this is, by now, fairly well understood when the number of atoms can be counted on one hand regardless of how many fingers you actually have. The trouble is that when you put molecules in a liquid (or some other complex media), it's a bit more difficult to keep track of all of them. So that's where working in a group of people with different talents and expertise comes in useful. And, like Dalí, we need to eat, so we'll take any dollars (or euros) that will allow us to advance our science!

No comments:

Post a Comment