Can Art Advance Science? A Hypothetical SEAD Experiment

Dr. Jonathan Zilberg
(Research Associate, Department of Transtechnology, University of Plymouth),

Dr. Barrie Kitto
(Professor, Department of Biochemistry, University of Texas at Austin),

Helen-Nicole Kostis
(Science Visualizer & NASAViz Project Manager, NASA/GSFC)

Dr. Linda Long
(Associate Research Fellow, University of Exeter Medical School, UK),

Kathryn Trenshaw
(Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Key Words: Transtechnology, Embodied Learning, Self-Determination Theory, Sonification, Visualization. Art-Science


Can SEAD collaborations contribute to the production of scientific knowledge? In this paper, we describe how such ends could hypothetically be achieved through experiencing the Krebs cycle as a multi-sensory spectacle, henceforth referred to as the Dance of Life.  We propose the Dance of Life as a transdisciplinary experiment in the form of a machine-mediated embodied learning experience which will generate a high order integration of basic scientific information through the rhythmic visual and sonic intensification of memory. The critical test of this proposed experiment’s value is whether this learning experience might advance biochemistry? Thus beyond the Dance of Life’s intended function as an innovative pedagogical device, the experience must in the end prove useful in furthering scientific knowledge. If not, it will have failed to have achieved its transdisciplinary purpose and to have met the challenge of whether the arts can demonstrably contribute to the advancement of science.


The purpose of this SEAD collaboration proposal is twofold: to support science education and to potentially advance research in biochemistry (and similar fields). Can we make the integrated complexity of the most iconic process in biochemistry, the Krebs or Tricarboxylic Acid (TCA) Cycle, more accessible to the general public and support science education in the process? This cycle is the primary metabolic pathway for the production of biological energy in cellular respiration (Eswaron 2005, Nelson 2008, Prebble 2002). [1] While the specifics of the process (the names and structures of the molecules and the molecular and atomic reactions at each step) require a basic knowledge of upper level high school chemistry and biology, this project intends to invert the learning process. Through visual, sonic, and embodied means, we propose the Dance of Life to foster an aesthetic and intellectual appreciation of the dynamics of the whole Krebs Cycle and its constituent parts through experiential means regardless of the learner’s level of scientific literacy.

We hypothesize that the experience may allow future scientists to better imagine molecular structures in complex cyclical and directional processes, resulting in insights into the study of chemical systems that might not have come about otherwise. The success or failure of the proposed experiment would be based on testing one specific outcome: Could high school and college science students more easily understand the Krebs cycle through the internalization of the Dance of Life’s sonic and visual cues initiated through physical motion? If the Dance of Life did achieve this goal, the machine would serve as a cognitive extension device, being an embodied learning tool. If not, the experiment would have failed the test of transdisciplinarity and amounted merely to a creative interdisciplinary exercise.

Transdisciplinarity is fundamentally different from interdisciplinarity (Zilberg 2011). Transdisciplinary research requires that each of the disciplines in the collaboration contribute in and of themselves and not merely to a synthesis. As a trans-disciplinary project, the Dance of Life must advance science education and ultimately science or it is not, by definition, a SEAD collaboration. Without advancing science, the experiment would simply recapitulate the primary problem in the decade long SCIART project in the UK (Glinkowski and Bamford 2009, Ione 2010). Thus in the context of taking up the challenge provided by the NSF Beyond Productivity report (Mitchell, Inouye and Blumenthal, 2003) and the importance of the arts to education (Marjee 1995, Tyler, Levitin and Likova 2008), we emphasize that such science-art collaborations are not contributing significantly to science. They have merely resulted in art projects inspired by science. As these NSF SEAD White Papers are meant to identify constraints, roadblocks, and opportunities, in this emerging SEAD collaboration we explain our design to overcome obstacles and meet the challenge of how the arts can hypothetically be productive for science as opposed to the sciences for the arts, as for instance in the case of evolutionary theory for art history (see Bork 2008) in contrast to literary criticism for science (Clarke and Rossini 2011, Roof 2007, Zilberg 2009, 2012). So can scientists dance? (Bohannon 2008)

Musical Biochemistry, Visualization and Memory

Scientific visualization, visual music, musical biochemistry and digital visualizations of chemical processes are not new (Johnson 2012, Kostis and Cohen 2012, Long 2001, Miller 1983, Simmons 2002, Syelingwerf 2005). [2] Over time, especially throughout the last decade, such approaches are becoming increasingly effective and refined, even popular (Bohannon 2008, Cai et al 2006, Dunn and Clack 1999, Garcia-Ruiz and Guitterrez-Pullido 2006, Hiroshi and Yoshima 2006, Jensen and Rasay 2001, Miller 1983, Mody 2005, Shi, Cai and Chan 2007 and Takahashi and Miller 2007). These musical and animated approaches satisfy a need for finding more effective ways to communicate complex scientific information than traditionally achieved through lectures, text books and rote memorization. In the UK, the field of molecular music was pioneered in the 1990’s by the NESTA award winning biochemist Linda Long and the first interactive exhibit of protein music was installed at Explore at-Bristol in 2002 (Simmons 2002) and ran successfully for a 10 year period. And as Long contributes here, musical biochemistry allows the student to overcome the overwhelming sense of alienation that scientific jargon tends to produce for so many of them: “Music is a universal language which speaks both to our conscious and unconscious and is hence a perfect medium to communicate complex scientific principles in an intuitive and accessible way.”

In the US, this pedagogical movement towards more visual and musical approaches to biochemistry was also well illustrated over a decade ago with the USDE/NSF funded North Dakota State University Virtual Cell Animation Project through sound, video and text, 3D downloads, and visual navigation tools designed to accompany the third edition of Lehninger’s Principles of Biochemistry (Nelson and Cox 2000, also see Nelson 2008). In this context, a 21st century generation of image-based technologically-assisted learning has emerged.  At the same time, a plethora of attempts by both professional and amateur attempts at putting the Krebs cycle to music has found its way onto Youtube, the current leaders in these US based experiments being in classes at the Khan Academy and Oregon State University. This diverse activity highlights the potential for this particular SEAD collaboration to make meaningful contributions to a developing field and help science students conceptualize simple and complex molecules, enzymes, protons, and electrons in motion during biochemical processes.

Discussed in more detail in the next section, we imagine the musical translation of glycolysis as the opening phrase to repeated as the chorus at every completion of a cycle. The main body of the repeating composition would represent each step of the Krebs cycle itself, including the generation of ATP, NADH and FADH2 and all other inputs and outputs. The Electron Transport System (ETS) would provide for an elaboration in the music representing hydrogen ion transfer.[3] With each cycle of single molecules of glucose breaking down, the composition would alter such that it signified in volume and modulation the exact amounts of ATP (energy) consumed and generated. At this point in musical biochemistry, while musicians and scientists have already used scientific data to create musical compositions, Dr. Long’s technique of translating 3D protein structure to music remains unique in its ability to accurately depict the twists and turns of a protein’s secondary structure by way of corresponding musical patterns. It is hence well placed to act as an auditory tool to actively engage students with the protein structures of all the enzymes involved in catalyzing the Krebs cycle.

Beyond the musical experience, could this experiment significantly advance imaginative scientific capacity and stimulate the subconscious mind. If so would this result in scientific insights that might not have occurred otherwise? Recall that our current understanding of the Periodic Table, the double helix, and the benzene ring all grew from the subconscious dreams of scientists (Strathern 2000). As regards memory and learning, as Long notes and as is expanded upon in the Appendix, the human mind is biologically wired in a way which predisposes the success of this hypothetical experiment. “Our brains have evolved to recognize auditory patterns and so intuitively we are able to discern and remember repeating musical themes. Protein molecules themselves are made up of repeating structural units (sheets, turns, helices). and so their accurate translation into musical notes create uniquely recognizable and memorable musical note patterns.” Hence beyond the musical representation of the transformation of the glucose molecule in the Krebs cycle, if Long’s molecular music was used to “visualize” 3D molecular structure of the Krebs cycle enzymes, the goal to aid memory by simplifying connection to complex data while making the “invisible visible” could be achieved for this part of the exhibit in particular.

The Machine and the Dance


The space of the gallery itself, designed as a single cell, will mainly be taken up by an open-ended transparent 3D mitochondria within which the cyclical dance occurs. Each of the eight steps in the Krebs cycle, including two for glycolysis (simplified from nine), will be depicted on plexi-glass pressure plates covering the museum floor. The ETS will be depicted around the walls as illuminated energy cascades. A pillar of light depicting ATP production would emerge from the center of the mitochondria and reach up to the gallery’s roof. As one jumps up and down on a plate or from one plate in the cycle to another, the accompanying molecule’s name and 2D molecular structure will be  lit up in the plexi-glass plate.

Each step is sonically projected and musically indexed such that the musical score reads as an analog to the chemical process. As the participating learner lands on a plate, the name of the molecule can be voiced, musically expressed, or even silenced to focus on purely visual learning, depending on the preference of the learner participating. Each molecule will have an associated and variable chord structure, and would ideally also be made visible in 3D and in rotational motion. The transformation processes will be musically experienced and visualized with the learner generating and actively engaging in the experience through physical action. As the individual jumps or dances from plate to plate, moving around and around the cycle, they will actively acquire scientific knowledge through an embodied multi-sensory learning experience. Each dimension (visual, sonic, and physical) poses particular artistic and technical challenges.

All the necessary technology is available and has been used in similar ways, such as interactive dance machines in gaming arcades and the Pavagen foot fall energy harvesting system showcased at the 2012 Olympic Games ( In addition, all of the enzymes catalyzing the Krebs cycle reactions can currently be translated to music using Dr. Linda Long’s Molecular Music technique. For instance, Long also notes for this application that it would be feasible to place touchscreen molecular models of the enzymes catalyzing the reactions between the relevant plates. By touching these screens while moving from one plate to the other, additional music could be generated that accurately reflects the shape of the specific enzyme required for that chemical reaction. Additional tracks could then be added by the user (or others as they joined the exhibit) to contextualize the “protein melody” and create a much more orchestral form of music than that produced by the simple eight step cycle itself and the nine steps for the glycolysis chorus. This additional musical richness and the expanded participation it encourages would make the experience even more emotionally engaging, so fulfilling the criteria of relatedness in self-determination theory as considered further below.

The machine will be programmable for different musical style options depending on the preferences of the participant, with the goal of engaging diverse audiences. Upon entering the machine, participating learners will be prompted to choose their desired musical style so that they can emotionally connect to the experience in their own way. Regardless of style, the music will become progressively livelier as the participating learner picks up speed. The rhythm will intensify and the volume will increase in relation to the theoretical energy produced by the number of cycles danced. The experience will be both artistically and musically powerful. The music and the machine would naturally climax at an inbuilt maximum synergistic potential when the machine is mastered and a unique rhythm established. As a site-specific performance artwork as well as a pedagogical experiment for science education, the Dance of Life will be tested in different international contexts. Including pre- and post-testing of the potential learning outcomes it will ideally be tested in art museums and science centers linked into local school and university science curriculums.

Viewers watching from outside or from above would indirectly gain the same knowledge through the visual and sonic dimensions. When no participants are using the learning apparatus, it will operate in auto-pilot, switching randomly from style to style and at varying speeds. The machine will be programmed to generate a continual aesthetic experience for museum visitors who prefer not to directly physically engage the experiment. The exact molecular and mathematical factors will be accurate at every step as well as cumulative and ideally synergistic. The complete experience will be aesthetically compelling. The machine will provide a spectacle, a visual and sonic experience of the overall reaction, the production of energy in the phosphorylation of ADP to produce ATP, and the mechanism of the ETS cascades. These offer powerful opportunities for the dynamic representation of atoms, molecules, and energy in motion, with color and music far in excess of what has been attempted so far for the Krebs cycle or in other embodied learning experiments in art education (Kuper, Zilberg and Bales 2000).


Towards Collaboration: Self Determination Theory

One intended consequence of this SEAD proposal was to draw in collaborators towards eventually creating and testing the proposed learning machine as a cognitive extension device. Depending on the collaborators, very different SEAD components will need to be addressed. At this point, the most progress has been made conceptually at the pedagogical as well as musical and choreographic level and the least in terms of engineering and design. One example of the potential value of such collaboration was supplied by Kathryn Trenshaw, a graduate research assistant in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her contribution was to introduce the relevance of self-determination theory (SDT) and how it can be used to enhance the model and expand its potential applications as a learning device in science and engineering contexts. Two other scientists have contributed. Dr. Linda Long’s contributions are integrated throughout this paper including in the section on molecular music appendix where suggestions by Dr. Helen-Nicole Kostis.of NASA Science Visualization Studio are also included, Dr. Kostis making particular note of extending the following discussion by Trenshaw. Dr. Kitto due to illness was unable to contribute his long standing thinking on synergistic properties of reactions in the Krebs cycle. Nevertheless, as this is merely a hypothetical paper towards a pedagogical experiment, it is hoped that the availability of this SEAD NSF White Paper will stimulate scientists to follow suit in due course.

As Trenshaw brings it to this collaboration, SDT identifies three important aspects of motivation: autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Autonomy refers to a person’s ability to make their own choices, competence refers to a person’s feeling that they have mastered the skills necessary to succeed, and relatedness refers to a person’s sense of community. The theory has a particular applicability in terms of learning in education and edutainment, specifically as it has proven pedagogical effectiveness in virtual environments and video games (Przybylski et al, 2012). The focus of this proposal is on embodied learning in which the physical senses are used as cognitive extension devices for learning through embodied means. The notion of the machine has evolved from that larger context, originally formulated as a board game called Biozopoly in the earlier days of Edutainment, then as a computer game, and finally here as a proposed engineered embodied experience.

SDT can be drawn upon to strategically design a learning apparatus that people of all backgrounds, abilities, and educational experiences will be motivated to use. For instance, autonomy can be supported by providing several options for how to interact with the learning apparatus. Different paths could be made available to move around the apparatus that lead to the same learning outcome (achieving the highest possible competence in understanding the Krebs cycle). There should be a sense of choice and ownership of the learning such that participating learners could dance it backward or forward two steps at a time while learning the cycle at their own speed and in their own way. Developing competence will therefore be implicit in the design.

And as Trenshaw emphasizes, participants will be made aware that they need not be a scientist to interact with the machine. They only need to use their body as an instrument of learning and everything will naturally follow. Consciously or unconsciously, the internalization of knowledge will take place as a natural consequence of the motion and the combined physical, visual, and sonic experience. Relatedness presents a motivational learning opportunity if adding participants improves the experience. For example, increasing the number of screens that display information or playing new parts of a musical composition in the background as new participants joined the experience.

Lastly, with such adaptability, flexibility, and extendibility in mind, Trenshaw notes that it would be possible to design an even more complex apparatus that could be easily changed from one concept to another. For instance, one could program the experience for something as simple as learning multiplication and division, the Periodic Table, the cycle of water in the environment or the Calvin cycle and other circular chemical reactions including cyclic and non-cyclic chemiosmosis. Switching a DVD or swapping out a hard drive could provide a new program which would reconfigure the pressure plates and the associated configurations of words, images, and music. Collaboration thus offers the power of vastly expanded potentials and contexts for the experimental machine (Brickwood 2007, Ione 2002, Zilberg 2008). [4]


The transdisciplinary opportunity presented by the Dance of Life is designed to induce a complex, physically heightened, subjective, and aesthetic perception of an iconic cycle in biochemistry. Ultimately it could contribute to science by stimulating an increased cognitive sophistication amongst future scientists in terms of how they conceptualize the bioenergetics of molecular processes (Prebble and Weber 2008). With an internalized sense of the dynamic dialectical whole, complexity, and homeostasis (Levins and Lewontin 1985), the horizon for science education and research practice can potentially be expanded in new dimensions. In that future-oriented context (Woese 2004), this hypothetical experiment is designed to entice future students into science, assuming it could be engineered as a highly compelling creative experience. The experiment’s pedagogical purpose is to enhance in advance the learner’s capacity to conceptualize the structural and energetic dynamics of the molecular transformations and processes involved in this and consequently other cyclical or non-cyclical directional chemical processes.

In “Cycles”, a pod-cast Edge presentation (Dennett n.d), Daniel Dennett, a philosopher at the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts, notes that “the key process in evolution is cyclical repetition” and that in employing this process, the Krebs cycle provides an essential resource for the cell. As he puts it, the system is a “flexible and rapidly tunable device” which serves as a molecular transistor, “a micro-miniaturized engine”, an “eight-stroke chemical reaction that turns fuel – into energy . . . .”  With that engineering metaphor in mind, coupled with the musical dimension, consider Shi, Cai, and Chan’s goal with their electronic music for biomolecules (2007). Their hope was to simultaneously unveil the mysteries of nature and motivate students to learn biology while paying special attention to using rhythms and tunes that are meaningful to teenagers and experimenting with non-Western musical instruments and forms (also see Cyranoski 2005).

To conclude then, in this experiment in embodied learning, the participant will experience the Krebs cycle as a multi-sensory spectacle and hence intensify the holistic knowledge of the processes involved. The machine and the experience must contribute to scientific knowledge. It has to be able to do more than simply foster an expanded dialectical sense of biochemistry and molecular biology. It will have to generate productive scientific insight that can be proven through future experimentation. The single criterion for assessing its ultimate success or failure is therefore clear. Can art contribute to science? That remains the penultimate SEAD challenge and opportunity.


Suggested Actions

Suggested Action #1: SEAD Priorities


Barrier: Relevance to science is a major SEAD challenge. Few if any demonstrated cases exist which prove that Art-Science projects, extended now as SEAD projects, have or can contribute to the advancement of science.

Target: SEAD professionals, government funding agencies, university and science museum administrators, creative industry professionals

Solution: Prove the value to science of SEAD and XSEAD initiatives

Suggested Action:  A nationally funded SEAD collaboration that advances science. In order to convince the scientific community of the potential value of the arts and the humanities to the sciences, proof of the supposition is required. This common argument for the importance of inter-disciplinary education has to be demonstrable. If so future funding and university based programs are far more likely to eventuate as valid institutional and national research priorities.


Suggested Action #2: SEAD Grants


Barrier: Securing funding for SEAD collaborations designed to test whether art can contribute to science can be difficult. Without funding, experimental SEAD projects cannot attract the necessary collaborators who have the skills and the resources available. Only with sufficient funding can the potential usefulness of engineering, the visual arts and design, the humanities in general, and dance and music in a transdisciplinary project be investigated.

Target: NSF, NEA, NEH, and NASA grant managers

Solution: SEAD grants

Suggested Action: Securing a large scale SEAD, XSEAD. STEM, or STEAM grant for open competition based awards would allow individual SEAD projects that have the potential to investigate the potential value of art to science. If the fact is established that there is no potential for the arts to contribute to science at the theoretical and experimental level, then the traditional argument must be made clearer that the real value of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary education is of a more general educational purpose.


  1. For information on and diagrams of the Krebs cycle see For highly accessible brief explanations and effective illustrations, see Aryulina et. al. Biology for Senior High School Grade XII (2012:44-47).
  2. See The Molecular Music Website at for music samples and further information on how the music sequences are generated. For additional information about Molecular Music, see Appendix 1.
  3. For simple information on and diagrams of the Electron Transport System, Chemiosmosis and Oxidative Phosphorylation see Molecular and Cell Biology for Dummies (Kratz 2009:171-175). Also see ATP Synthase Gradient: The Movie at For bio-visualization (bio-viz) and science-vizualization (Sci-viz), see the Osmos game at and Atlas in Silico at
  4. The “Listen to Your Body” exhibit is a further example of how scientists, artists, engineers and software developers in the business sector collaborated successfully. “Listen to Your Body”, the molecular music touchscreen exhibit at Explore at-Bristol Science Centre. This successful science exhibit ran between 2001 and 2010 and invited children of all ages to explore the protein hormones in their bodies by way of an interactive touchscreen exhibit. Children of all ages accessed accurate 3D models of proteins and then heard how these models sounded when translated to music. They were then able to personalize their experience by adding and taking away backing tracks so that they could contextualize the “protein melody” into a piece of music that they emotionally related to. In addition, there was textual information about the role of the proteins that they were listening to, so providing a popular trans-disciplinary learning tool. Although not formerly assessed, the exhibit possessed many of the elements important for self-determination theory as detailed here by Kathryn Trenshaw.



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Appendix: Molecular Music, Discussion, Suggestions

Molecular Music

Molecular Music TM involves the translation of the 3-dimensional positions of a protein’s amino acids into note sequences. X-ray crystallography data (describing the 3-dimensional positions of the amino acids in a protein molecule) is filtered and then mapped onto musical parameters such as pitch and amplitude. Data may be filtered to emphasize either small scale changes or large scale changes, so generating note sequences that describe protein structure on many different levels. In this way, characteristic patterns in protein structure such as helixes (heard as arpeggios) and beta-sheets (heard as a succession of similar notes) emerge as recognizable musical note patterns from the 3-dimensional structural data. The musically pleasing quality of such generated note sequences is incidental, although not surprising given that it is the repetitive patterns in music that we find most pleasing and memorable. There is no subjective “musical labeling” of amino acids in order to produce musical tunes and the accurate translation means that small differences in molecular structure can be distinguished by their tunes  (Long L “Tuneful Proteins” New Scientist 2001:53, September 8,

Proteins are 3-dimensional biological molecules that are conventionally described as having four levels of structure. Note sequences which reflect these differing levels of detail can be generated, and layering of such note sequences produced from a single protein produce protein-specific musical compositions. You could say that these compositions are “multi-dimensional” as they are describing many levels of a protein’s 3-dimensional structure at the same time. This method of musical translation of 3-dimensional protein structure generates note sequences that sonically describe the visual features of the protein’s structure. This means that rather than simply looking at a protein and seeing structural features, you can hear them. Such note sequences may act as an auditory aid in perceiving and visualizing protein structure. Humans’ have a keen ear for musical patterns and this method of translating structural data into musical form facilitates the recognition of those patterns. This is a different way of looking at protein structures which are normally represented by complex visual models or data sets. Because it is more accessible, it opens up the area of molecular biology to a larger range of people who perhaps would not have access to it, for example in the case of children and the visually impaired.(Explore at-bristol exhibit; The Biochemist 2002,24(6):40.

Consider for instance, the importance of this for science as noted in the The Harrow Technology Report Haunting Melodies (2001 at There the report reads: “Dr. Long has come up with a way to map the intricate whorls and swirls of these “patterns of life” into a medium that is rich enough, and symbolic enough, to allow people to intuitively grasp and differentiate between the complex instructions that define how living things are put together. . . . .“Is this important?. . .  I suggest it is very important indeed . . . . Because as we continue to develop enormously complex data sets in many fields, our ability to understand, and to make sense of this overpopulation of data, demands innovative new ways of looking at (or listening to) them. For example, if you play several of the sample music clips …. [referring to music derived from protein structures found on the molecularmusic web-site].you can easily tell the difference between them. But if you were shown the 3D models of the proteins, would it be so simple?”  Simply put then, if Dr. Long’s approach to molecular music can be so effective for thinking about complex structures such as proteins imagine how it could advance our appreciation of molecular transformation as relatively simple as the linked step-wise and cyclical reactions in glycoloysis, the Krebs cycle and the Electron Transport System.

Discussion: Internalizing and Externalizing

In a cross cultural study of time, The Dance of Life, by Edward T. Hall (1983: 165), he refers to and advances John Dewey’s discussion in Art and Life (1934/1980) that the tie which connects art and science is a shared interest in rhythm. The importance of rhythm in the context of atomic or molecular time has not be substantially considered in biochemistry or developmental and molecular biology (see Newman 2007). Hall’s discussion of the dimensions of creativity (internal versus external) is most relevant to our proposed learning machine. Hall writes: “The difference between creating inside oneself and creating outside by means of an extension is basic and crucial” (ibid.:140). For Hall, an extension is an “externalized manifestation of human drives, needs, and knowledge,” for instance the telephone extending the voice, computers extending memory and the arithmetic mind (pp. 130). In the case of this proposed learning machine, it physically and conceptually extends the internal process of memorization. As Hall adds, while some people are more effective at working out conceptual problems in their heads, others have to externalize the operation and this is a much slower process (ibid.:139). For those students, the Dance of Life could be particularly helpful.

Hall introduces two directly relevant issues for this machine and learning the Krebs cycle: peoples’ abilities to internalize and externalize concepts and peoples’ abilities to distinguish between sequential and discrete units (1983:140). As he notes, “The artist or scientist who sees a complex form all at once will have fewer problems externalizing or translating into symbols than the individual who has to tease his product into bits and pieces, externalizing something without form from his unconscious which he then assembles outside his body on paper, canvas, clay or a dance floor” (ibid.). Hall adds an additional point of relevance to the potential value of this experience in his observation that some individuals are able to span time more effectively, that is, to think into the future. Such individuals are able to hear where a musical composition is going, as Hall states “they experience what is going on in the present as a portion of a unified entity that is played out in a sequential manner (ibid.:139). They are therefore more easily able to visualize, commit to memory, and conceptually manipulate the sequential steps involved in complex cyclical and non-cyclical biochemical reactions.

In The Dance of Life experience, the participant would enter into a sublime zone of wonder relating to the inner workings of the mitochondria. An artist such as Dale Chihuly could likely achieve the required effect, as for example with the blown glass ceiling exhibit in the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.  And a musician such as Lori Anderson would likely be able to assist in the direction of the musical materials because of her iconic piece “Big Science” and her appointment as a NASA artist. In Indonesia, artists, musicians, and directors such as Nia Dinata, Jay Subyakto, and Ananda Sukarlan have similar world class capacities. Whatever artistic collaboration eventuates, students will find their rhythm through the power of image, color, and music, all of which will have to be carefully designed, composed and integrated for synesthetic effect and signaling precise molecular transformations.

Engaging all their senses, repeating, going backwards and forwards as needed, or even skipping steps, slowing down or speeding up, going around and around, will help learners automatically internalize their own inter-connected sense of the complexity of molecular transformations that take place in the Krebs cycle.  In his discussion of the organization of energies through rhythm and repetition (1980:62-186) John Dewey draws on Coleridge’s thoughts on the imagination and refers a synthetic aesthetic experience:  “the welding together of all elements . . . . into a new and completely unified experience” (ibid.:267) which we propose as the overall artistic goal of our experiment

The simultaneously internalized and externalized rhythmic multi-sensory experience involves a different mode of learning science than currently is practiced. The experience will differ in terms of the cognitive process and the traditional psychology, hierarchy, and structure of learning. Fusing biochemistry and molecular biology, it will bring together different brain and body functions, creating a unique learning synergy. This would allow individuals to draw upon their innate cognitive strengths, whether they are more analytic or synthetic. Novel scientific insights might result because learners will be able to more imaginatively engage molecular structures and transformations in motion, both as individual steps in the cycle and as part of the full cycle. In this fusion of the objective and the subjective, the internal and the external, conscious and unconscious connections will form. The sequential steps, the inputs and the outputs, the rhythmic integration of this knowledge, will ideally ignite a passion for science through communicating the sheer wonder of how it progressively renders the invisible visible, the formerly untranslatable translatable. There is potential here for a love affair between art and science with nearly unlimited reproductive potential.

It remains then to conclude by turning to Punt (2012) and Malina (2012) on science and the sublime. Punt points out that in the process of externalism, “materials and objects are always implicated in our cognitive architecture rather than being simply outputs of our internal cognitive processes. There, in the scientific quest to makes the un-observable observable, “[T]hinking through objects rather than thinking about objects becomes the description of the cognitive process.” In the same context, Malina, highlights science art projects which are succeeding at generating a sense of the sublime while contributing to science, such as musical compositions based on scientific data, multi-modal representations of hydrogen atoms through visualization and sonification, and immersive fly through scientific experiences with sensual and emotional power.  Here we find evolving arts-sciences practices. This proposed SEAD collaboration (as a cognitive extension device) intends to engineer a space for stimulating the relation between memory and attention. The experiment would connect the conscious and subconscious mind through an aesthetic learning experience linking the objective and the subjective in a creative dynamic.

With an internalized sense of the dynamic dialectical whole, complexity, and homeostasis (Levins and Lewontin 1985), the horizon for science education and research practice can potentially be expanded in new dimensions.  New questions may surface about synergistic rhythms, oscillatory molecular dynamics, and the evolutionary molecular transformations involved from prokaryote to eukaryote with the emergence of the mitochondria (Woese 1998). Towards unchartered territory then, the goal of The Dance of Life is to establish a dynamic template within the conscious and unconscious mind, ideally resulting in a sublime art-science experience (Hoffman and Whyte 2011, Malina 2012, Punt 2012, Sarrukai 2012).

Suggestions from Helen-Nicole Kostis, Science Vizualization Lab, NASA

Dr. Kostis, in her review of this paper, made a number of suggestions as follows. They are mainly posed as questions and ideas for expanding the potentials the machine and experience appears to offer. Again, as with the collaboration with Dr. Linda Long and Kathryn Trenshaw, the hypothetical experimental learning machine seems to be capable of generating substantial potential synergy for teaching and learning science.

  1. How would the installation work with multiple participants? How can The Dance of Life machine take advantage of this? What will change in the environment (except visuals and sound)? How can this affect the process of the machine? How can this benefit the machine? For example: Can multiple processes be instantiated? Can this increase the speed of the cycle? How can this be linked to benefit science?
  2. What other forms can this project take considering that it could be a powerful installation and learning experience, in a science center? The question then becomes: how many people will be able to experience it in a museum? While the numbers could be substantial, is it possible to create additional forms of this project? For example, what are the potentials for mobile development, that is, the sort of game where users can either experience it alone or with other users? If that were possible, then the project would become available to a huge audience.
  3. It could also possible to build this project in a reverse manner and by basing the project more explicitly in Self Determination Theory. If that were the case, then it would become a more complex and much larger project with even greater benefits. For instance, one could create a system/engine that could be programmed based on Self Determination Theory that followed general rules. It could accept the following components in generic modes, namely visualization modules, sound components and interactivity. Then one could use The Dance of Life to teach the Krebs cycle as an example of use in which rules, modules, components and interactivity could be refined in detail on the system. For this type of project one would need at least 3-4 more examples, as suggested already perhaps for learning the Periodic Table and the Calvin cycle or even multiplication and division. In this scenario, the proposed machine mediated embodied learning model would provide a system that can be significantly expanded and which has potential in education far beyond bio-chemistry. That would interest other institutions or partners outside of science centers as they would be interested in its development in terms of how they would benefit from it.


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