Web Wandering
Preserving The Scientific World

© 1996, Felica Frankel, All Rights Reserved

Felice Frankel and Chuck Doswell are scientists as well as photographers. However, their interests lie poles apart. While Frankel finds her chosen material in the laboratories at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Doswell is a storm chaser, in love with the moving clouds and lightning storms over the plains in his native Oklahoma. What unites them is their fascination with the natural beauty before them and a need through their photographs to bring what they witness to our awareness. Their web sites are rich in text and imagery and loaded with information that will keep you linking from one phenomenon to another.

Felice Frankel, artist in residence at Massachusetts Institute of Technolo-gy, would like to turn the whole world on to science. And, she just might. Communicating information through images, she is presenting scientific data in a new pictorial way and bringing attention to the subject as it has not been done before. What Frankel is doing is documenting research, taking her camera into the laboratories, and seeking the esthetic components in her subjects along with their scientific data.

"It's all about truth and beauty," she says, "and my work is getting a lot of attention. People seem eager to see what goes on in a laboratory in a comprehensible and accessible way. Hopefully when the public sees my pictures, they will not only understand what they're seeing, but I can tell them in a visual way how their eyes should travel."

© 1996, Chuck Doswelll, All Rights Reserved

Her dazzling colors depict the inherent beauty of the natural world, sparking our curiosity to see more, to learn more. Her exhibition, On the Surface of Things, ran as a special interview on PBS and was published as a book (now going into its second printing) with text by Professor George M. Whitesides of Harvard University. On the web site a beautifully configured photograph shows patterns of Proteus (bacteria) colonies, the arresting image bridging the scientific and esthetic properties of the subject. In another, Frankel explores the magnetic force of a drop of Thero Fluid, placing it on a piece of glass under which she put a yellow post-it. Beneath, she used seven circular magnets to create a pattern within the drop. Looking closely at the image you can make out the reflected windowpanes of the available light that Frankel used. Alan Lightman of MIT describes Frankel's work as "a happy union and a deep one. These spellbinding colors, textures, and filigrees," he says, "captured with Frankel's keen eye, remind us that much of our sense of beauty derives from the endless variety of phenomena we find in the natural world. Every image is a scientific question, a wonderment, a poem..."

© 1996, Chuck Doswelll, All Rights Reserved

Frankel was a landscape and architectural photographer for 20 years with a degree in biology and an interest in biochemistry. "Science was always in my heart," she says, "and when I received the Loeb Fellowship at Harvard in 1991 and they told me I could do anything I wanted to do, I decided to use my photography to enlighten people. I was able to take classes with people like E.O. Wilson and Steven J. Gould and felt that with my photography I would be able to improve the imagery that scientists were using to communicate their work. Photography for them had been just a way of quick record keeping and certainly they had not been interested in communicating to the general public."

What Frankel does is to first determine what the focus of her subject will be. Using one of her two microscopes she produces her images for the most part through optical microscopy. Her camera is a Nikon F3 with a microscopic attachment that adjusts the camera to her eye. "Our eyes vary considerably," she explains, "and when you take microscopic pictures you have very little depth of field. So the focal issue is difficult. The microscopic attachment connects to the viewfinder and I first adjust the camera to my eye with the cross hairs. Then, when I focus the microscope I know that my camera is adjusted properly so my subject will be in focus. Though the microscope is used as the lens, on occasion when I take macro photography I use a 105 macro lens attached to my camera. I do play with my light and never assume that the light I used on the previous shot is going to be the same. Generally I don't use flashes but am now trying to set up a system to capture movement by sticking a very small flash in the light source housing of the microscope. I haven't refined this idea yet and am still using a continuous tungsten lamp."

Frankel's dream is to create a laboratory for envisioning and communicating science and technology on the Internet, where there will be people like herself as well as illustrators, computer modelers, and animators, all in one place, using the Internet as the connection among all of the institutes of learning. "The key," she says, "will be to not only communicate pictures over the Internet, but to use it as a collaborative tool and find ways to go and talk to each other on a particular page and change things. But the very first thing that has to happen is to standardize the viewer's point of view, so I know when I am talking to somebody at Cal Tec that they are seeing the exact same colors and image that I am seeing at MIT."

For more information, visit Felice Frankel's web site at http://web.mit.edu/museum/exhibits/frankel1.html.

Chuck Doswell's "day job" is as a meteorologist in Norman, Okla-homa, but when he began to take pictures 30 years ago, his interest mushroomed. "I had been just using the camera to record what I saw," he says, "sort of snapshots like `here we are in Disneyland,' but I was not satisfied with the results."

Somewhere along the way Dos-well discovered that a lot of the things he had learned about storms were not true. Working with a friend, who is a storm spotter with the weather service, he began to take images that he felt would help spotters recognize bad weather. Because of these photographs, the level of spotter training has greatly increased and in many instances has actually helped to save lives. Lightning is Doswell's specialty and his web site is a virtual handbook for getting out there and shooting a storm (and getting back alive.)
"It's difficult and challenging and I go through a lot of film," he says, as he describes an image showing a flower garden in the wind with a bolt of lightning illuminating the background. "In this instance it was difficult not to get the flowers completely blurred by the wind and leave the shutter open long enough to get the lightning. I was using a neutral density filter to help darken everything so I could have longer exposures. Then I could stop way down." Though Doswell doesn't recall exactly the f/stop ("I'm not that anal retentive," he says) he feels pretty sure it was f/16 or maybe f/22.

© 1996, Felica Frankel, All Rights Reserved

Should you decide that lightning is a tempting subject, it is a good idea to keep your risks at a manageable level. So how do you know? You don't. Doswell recalls with humor how when traveling through the plains, he noticed that the highways were bordered by fences and lines of power poles that cluttered up his foreground. To solve the problem he would go up to the fence line and stick his tripod through the fence. One day at the height of a lightning storm, he got to thinking that the storm was beginning to put down lightning bolts near those power poles and the fence line, and if it hit them it would run right down and get him.

Essentially Doswell makes a forecast of where he thinks he wants to be, which of course is where the tornado touches down or the most severe thunderstorms are. He caries an "ancient" Canon with a mechanical shutter because "a lot of the things I do using long exposures eat up batteries and a camera with a dead battery, if it's an electronic shutter, is a paperweight. If the battery is dead with my mechanical shutter I can guess pretty accurately at the exposure." His film is Fuji Velvia and he uses "a whole pile of lenses from 20mm to 300mm."

Recently he has been shooting medium format, Pentax 6x7, which, he says, he is still struggling with. "The thing about storms is that it requires you to know your equipment," he says. "You have to make rapid decisions about what lens to use and you have to set up quickly, so the greater the degree of familiarity, the more likely you are to come away with the images you want."

Borrowing a phrase from Teddy Roosevelt, Doswell says he views the web as a kind of "bully pulpit," a chance to express things without going through the normal process of getting approval from an authority figure. "It is a vehicle for me to say things that don't have an official sanction, yet are my firmly held beliefs and thoughts personally and scientifically."

For more information, visit Chuck Doswell's web sites at www.nssl.noaa.gov/~doswell/ltgph.html or www.wildstar.net~doswelland http://www.wildstar.net/~doswell.