Data Sculpture

Recently I blogged about a plaster model made by James Clerk Maxwell in 1874 to visualise a relationship between volume, energy, and entropy. Follow-up discussion touched on the topic of data sculpture more generally, and I thought that such tangible three-dimensional data visualisations deserved their own post. The image below, for example, is of a spiral periodic table designed by Sir William Crookes and constructed in 1898 by his assistant:

The photograph below (courtesy of the Museum of History of Science, Oxford) shows a three-dimensional electron density map for Penicillin calculated from X-ray crystallography by Dorothy Hodgkin:

Similar transparent data sculptures are relatively easy to make. The wide availability of 3d printers also allows easy generation of data sculptures. Jeff Hemsley explains how to do this with network data using R:

Finally, several beautiful population visualisations were on display at the Tate Modern in 2007. Lorenzo G took the photograph below:

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One thought on “Data Sculpture

  1. Tony, you’re pointing out the relation between art and science. Like truth and beauty, one will always be deficient without the other. Good presentation of data will be beautiful and the reverse is also true even though socially unacceptable. (Beautiful things will be technically excellent).
    I have a friend who is long term unemployed but who manages to scrounge beauty from rubbish. He has a discerning eye and his house is beautifully decorated with pieces of technical glass ware, instruments and engineered components from cars, ships and airplanes.

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