Black Hole No. 07 (2013). An illustration of centripetal force. Paint whirls outward from a metal rod attached to a spinning power drill.

In his TEDGlobal 2013 talk, Fabian Oefner shares breathtaking images at the nexus of art and science, which beautifully capture unique moments of physical and chemical drama.

Formally trained in art and design, Oefner says that he has always been interested in science. Though he can’t pinpoint the exact moment when he became interested in pairing his two loves, he views both pursuits as inextricably linked by a crucial bond: “The most important quality of science or art is curiosity,” Oefner tells TED. “That’s what keeps me going and always finding something new.”

On the TED stage, Oefner demonstrates the science at work behind three of his photographs. As he explains his process, the mystical quality of the images gives way to understanding. But how important to him is it that the casual viewer of his artwork know the underlying scientific principles? Actually, not very. “I’m not too didactic about my work. If people just want to appreciate it for its beauty, that’s absolutely fine,” he tells us. “And if I present it without an explanation, people tend to come up with their own, which is often even more poetic.”

For an imagination-friendly, explanation-free viewing of Oefner’s work, watch the first 45 seconds of his talk. For viewers who’d rather forego the poetry in favor of learning, here are 10 close-up views of Oefner’s fascinating work – and, just as fascinatingly, how he made it. This gallery includes works from series both new and old (the first three are the examples featured in the talk), inspired by everything from scientific papers to household chores.

Morton Bast is TED’s Community Mentor and Editorial Assistant.

Join the conversation! 7 Comments

  1. Amazing!
    TED is my favorite movement.

  2. Incredible images and interesting techniques to capture these moments, like bursting a balloon coated with cornstarch. The ferrofluid is so beautiful. It’s amazing how most of these images do resemble those taken in space, and though I haven’t listened to the talk yet, am wondering whether astrophysicists could/have correlated the way objects scatter and move in space with the way objects move on Earth.

  3. Alexa Meade doesn’t paint on canvas. No, as she explains in today’s talk, she paints on something very different — human skin.i like it

  4. I am at a loss for words what imagination , what beauty , its really food for thought, and beauty in art be it in whatever form, very , imaginative. I love it just wish I could view it on bigger scale tthan cell phone. W

  5. Absolutely stunning! We so often divide these subjects into such distinct and different boxes, and think of science and art as polar opposites. But as Fabian so eloquently stated, the most important quality of science or art is curiosity. Curiosity is what drives all human learning, and what inspires us at The Leonardo museum. Great comments everyone!

  6. The connection between Art and Science: “Curiosity”!

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About Morton Bast

Morton Bast comments, proofreads, fact-checks, moderates, reads, writes and reasons for TED.com. She has a B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis, a thirst for knowledge, and a medium-sized collection of Hello Kitty paraphernalia. She is also a New Yorker, for which there is no known cure.

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