Icelandic musician Björk combined art and science with her 2011 album Biophilia – it was released with a series of iPad apps featuring biological images such as a virus attacking cells and DNA replication. Multimedia designer Scott Snibbe was executive producer for the project and in a Nature Q&A published online today, he describes his interactive science-museum installations, science-based apps and how he came to work on Biophilia.
Here is an excerpt from the piece:
What draws you to interactive apps?
Other fields are limited by money, equipment and the laws of nature. But with computers, the only limits are technical ability, ingenuity and imagination. Nature has awed me since I was a child, but the educational system rarely conveys this wonder, transforming our Universe into boring multiple-choice questions. My programs recreate the wonder and magic to give people the kind of experiences that they have in wild places such as river banks. My apps borrow from nature, but the laws are slightly altered, as if in a parallel universe.
Can you describe your science-based apps?
With my Gravilux, you touch the screen and stars are attracted to your fingertips. I started with Newton’s gravity equations but didn’t get controllable patterns, so I removed mutual attraction. Bubble Harp draws Voronoi diagrams, based on a geometric algorithm first described by seventeenth-century philosopher René Descartes, and used to model the structure of cells, the pattern of human settlements and the gravitational influence of stars. With Antograph, you ‘paint’ a pheromone that attracts ants, but they swarm off the trail, just as real ants would. I’ve had reports of it being used to teach what pheromones are, and one user of Gravilux said that it helped him to get an A grade in physics for the first time.