Gallery TEDTalks

The art of science: Stunning, psychedelic images from Fabian Oefner

Posted by: Morton Bast
Aurora No. 01 (2013) This image illustrates the combustion of alcohol. A flame is stopped in time as it travels through a glass bottle, containing whiskey and oxygen. More starting at 7:39 in Oefner’s talk.

Aurora No. 01 (2013) This image illustrates the combustion of alcohol. A flame is stopped in time as it travels through a glass bottle, containing whiskey and oxygen. More starting at 7:39 in Oefner’s talk.

In today’s TED Talk, Fabian Oefner shares breathtaking images at the nexus of art and science, which beautifully capture unique moments of physical and chemical drama.

Fabian Oefner: Psychedelic scienceFabian Oefner: Psychedelic scienceFormally 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 the TED Blog. “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.

Dancing Colors "The Pillar" (2013) This is a visualization of sound. Colored crystals leap from the surface of a speaker as it emits sound waves. More starting at 2:13 in Oefner’s talk.

Dancing Colors “The Pillar” (2013) This is a visualization of sound. Colored crystals leap from the surface of a speaker as it emits sound waves. More starting at 2:13 in Oefner’s talk.

Millefiori No. 01 (2012) Ferrofluid is a magnetic, hydrophobic liquid that forms colorful curves and channels when deposited onto a magnet and injected with watercolor paints. More starting at 5:20 in Oefner’s talk.

Millefiori No. 01 (2012) Ferrofluid is a magnetic, hydrophobic liquid that forms colorful curves and channels when deposited onto a magnet and injected with watercolor paints. More starting at 5:20 in Oefner’s talk.

Grain of Scent (2013) Tiny individual droplets of a liquid mixed with spray paint hang in the air for a fraction of a second, forming a scent sculpture.

Grain of Scent (2013) Tiny individual droplets of a liquid mixed with spray paint hang in the air for a fraction of a second, forming a scent sculpture.

Marbelous No. 05 (2013) An unusual look at the properties of oil, as Colorful marbles of oil paint float in a solution of water and methylated spirits.

Marbelous No. 05 (2013) An unusual look at the properties of oil, as colorful marbles of oil paint float in a solution of water and methylated spirits.

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

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

Iridient No. 03 (2012) A floating soap bubble is captured at the moment it bursts, and surface tension is broken.

Iridient No. 03 (2012) A floating soap bubble is captured at the moment it bursts, and surface tension is broken.

Nebula No. 10 (2011) This is a $10 illusion of the universe. The glowing ends of a fiberglass lamp are swirled to create a likeness of stars and galaxies using long exposure photography.

Nebula No. 10 (2011) This is a $10 illusion of the universe. The glowing ends of a fiberglass lamp are swirled to create a likeness of stars and galaxies using long exposure photography.

Blue Danube (2013) Light breaks at the grooves in the tracks of a vinyl record.

Blue Danube (2013) Light breaks at the grooves in the tracks of a vinyl record.

Vanishing Beauty (2012) Powders can behave like fluids. Here, corn starch hangs in the air momentarily, retaining its shape, as the balloon surrounding it is popped.

Vanishing Beauty (2012) Powders can behave like fluids. Here, corn starch hangs in the air momentarily, retaining its shape, as the balloon surrounding it is popped.

Comments (29)

  • Winston Williams commented on Feb 22 2014

    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

  • Ramata BARRO commented on Feb 21 2014

    Reblogged this on Write for learning and commented:
    Fascinant! Ce mot s’applique dans tous les domaines, à toutes les choses. La beauté existe tout autour de nous et en permanence, il suffit de pouvoir le remarquer.
    Fascinating! This word applies in all domains, in all things. The beauty exists all around us and constantly, it just suffice to notice it .

  • commented on Feb 21 2014

    Reblogged this on The Weird and the Wonderful: Reblogged and commented:
    Love the spin this guy has put on “painting”

  • Pingback: Articles of Interest October 4, 2013 « National Creativity Network

  • commented on Oct 13 2013

    Reblogged this on baisho.

  • commented on Oct 11 2013

    Reblogged this on InteriorEsArte.

  • Pingback: Fabian Oefner: Psychedelic science – [TED Talks] | mostly music

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  • commented on Oct 7 2013

    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

  • commented on Oct 7 2013

    Reblogged this on scone's kitchen and commented:
    Science and art make for a stunning combination… this TED talk blog post displays the work of the amazing Fabian Oefner, a photographer who shares “breathtaking images at the nexus of art and science.” Even if you aren’t the biggest fan of science, the pictures are still breathtaking; after all, who says you need to understand something to enjoy it? And if you place yourself on the other side of the fence (scientific mind, artistically disinclined), the process behind each photograph may be what fascinates you most. Oefner’s work is certainly worth a quick look, dear readers… who knows what could happen? You very well may find yourself itching to create some interdisciplinary mediums of your own.

  • commented on Oct 7 2013

    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.

  • commented on Oct 6 2013

    Amazing!
    TED is my favorite movement.

  • commented on Oct 6 2013

    Reblogged this on mindchair and commented:
    Great photos and as a aspiring photographer I must say the methods used to create this art were absolutely creative beyond belief. COOL STUFF

  • Razvan Si Lidia Mihalcea commented on Oct 5 2013

    Reblogged this on La Razvi' – Razvan Mihalcea.

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  • commented on Oct 3 2013

    Reblogged this on Anacephalaeosis and commented:
    Note the fractal nature of many of these natural phenomena. Self-similarity includes self-difference in itself; consider that oddity for a moment.

  • commented on Oct 3 2013

    Reblogged this on The Quest for an Abudance in Sunshine and commented:
    breaking bad left a breaking bad sized hole in my soul

  • commented on Oct 3 2013

    Reblogged this on WEBB TECH 3D and commented:
    So pretty!

  • commented on Oct 3 2013

    Reblogged this on Morning Tempest Studios.

  • commented on Oct 3 2013

    Reblogged this on Jesse Gross Photography and commented:
    Awesome images!