Editor’s note: Anna Mattson, the reporter who wrote this story, and Bryce Dole, another member of the Daily Emerald staff, participated in the Science & Memory SOJC program mentioned in this story.
Inside Columbia Hall, a Volcanology professor is creating new music after a long day of teaching. The sound of a string quartet echoes through the halls at the University of Oregon William Knight Law Center. In downtown Eugene, the Oakshire Brewing Public House’s walls display intricate graphic designs. At the School of Journalism and Communication, students are writing about policy, resilience and art. The most outstanding connection between these events? Science, of course.
As the climate crisis nears and more discoveries are being made, scientists are learning new ways to effectively communicate scientific information with each other and the public. Volcanologist Leif Karlstrom, seismologist Lucy Jones and local programs ArtSci and Science & Memory are making mesmerizing creations out of numbers and graphs.
Leif Karlstrom - Volcano Violinist
According to Leif Karlstrom, a volcanology professor at UO, the two worlds of art and science don’t seem very compatible on the surface level but are actually intertwined at the core.
“There’s really no reason for science and music to overlap,” Karlstrom said. “The communities are very, very different and often don’t really appreciate each other. The framework is different, but the mentality is the same."
Karlstrom has been studying volcanoes and playing violin since the beginning of his whole professional career in 2006. He has often compared his love of science and the creation of music with living two lives.
But Karlstrom has drawn a line between the two disciplines despite their seemingly drastic difference through a new endeavor called “The Volcano Listening Project,” which combines the rumbles of volances and the vibrations of the strings. The project took data from erupting volcanoes and put sound to them, which was then constructed into music.
“There’s two goals with this,” he said. “One is to get people engaged with volcanic data and science in a new and unexpected way, and the other is to make music.”
Man-made carbon emissions in conjunction with volcanic eruptions cause chemical reactions that harm the ozone layer at increased rates, according to NASA. Keeping track of volcanic data and noting their impacts on the environment could give scientists insight on possible solutions. Projecting this kind of scientific information to the world, like the impacts of volcanoes on the ozone layer, requires scientists to engage with a broad spectrum of people, Karlstrom said.
“Part of my job, as a professor and as a professional scientist, is interfacing with the public,” Karlstrom said. “There’s this attitude of being ‘explained’ or ‘talked at’ with data, so making the research that we do accessible and presenting it in different ways is very valuable.”
Music has the power to enhance memory and ignite emotions in people across the world, according to Inside Science. Weaving the topic of climate change into music has the potential to create more empathy and resignation with those who choose to listen.
Dr. Lucy Jones - Heating Harmony
Dr. Lucy Jones, a seismologist from Pasadena, California, has also worked to increase awareness of science through her music.
After creating the nationwide “Drop, Cover, and Hold” earthquake drill, publishing a book titled ‘The Big Ones’ and researching earthquakes for decades, Jones exchanged her successful career in seismology for creating awareness about climate change and natural disasters — through song.
Dr. Jones’ piece, “In Nomine Terra Calens” (In the Name of a Warming Earth), is based on the change of the average global temperature. The pitch of the song increases each time the Earth’s average temperature increased by 0.1 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 1800s.
According to NASA Earth Observatory, the temperature globally has risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit cumulatively from 1880-2017.
“Understanding the science of climate change doesn’t get you to action — partly because it’s so frightening. We have emotional barriers to really comprehending what we’re doing,” Jones said. “What I want to do is use music to help people process those emotions to climate change so we can move past the denial and get into action.”
She and many others performed science-inspired music at the Oct. 29 exhibit of “How the Arts are Addressing Climate Change” event at the UO William Knight Law Center.
Jones said that there needs to be a greater connection between scientists and the public in order to create real change moving forward.
“We are going to be suffering from a lot more natural disasters, because every ecosystem in the world is now experiencing a different climate than originally called for,” Jones said. “It does not require a degree in atmospheric science to be able to figure that out. Yet, we aren’t saying it clear enough. Scientists can find simpler ways to say things without oversimplification.”
ArtSci - Seeing Statistics
In contrast to musical communication, the new Eugene program “ArtSci,” shows data through visual art.
Three researchers from UO teamed up to create a new local program with the intent of celebrating scientific research through various kinds of art. A gallery on ArtSci’s website includes visually striking images of space, neurons and chemical dyes.
Rather than accessing it online, the pieces are displayed around some of Eugene’s popular locations. Their first display, titled “Research as Art,” was shown at the Oakshire Brewing Public House.
“The images are not manufactured purely for artistic enjoyment but instead help to visually communicate the actual scientific data we use to learn about the world every day,” Martin said. “Each one tells us a secret about the world we didn't know before.”
The art isn’t just inspired by science but is actually a representation of real data that local scientists in the community produce daily. ArtSci has received an abundance of support from both scientists and the general public; upwards of a hundred locals filled Oakshire Brewery in support for the grand opening of the gallery.
The images for the previous exhibit were images taken during research, Martin said. The data is visually captured through microscopes and telescopes to show the actual evidence of findings from local scientists.
Martin said the program is less about creating a connection between art and science, but rather “accentuating a bond that already exists.” Science, to Martin, is already interesting and doesn’t require any kind of beautification.
Science & Memory — Climate Collaboration
Tucked inside Allen Hall is a group of students capturing the essence of environmental adaptation through students skilled in photography, videography, art and the written word.
The program, called “Science & Memory,” has been focused on reshaping environmental journalism in Eugene, Alaska, Ghana and its latest addition, Hawaii, for the past eight years. Each excursion is dedicated to experiential learning through direct contact with scientists and time out in the field.
Patty Karafotias, a UO junior who went on the most recent trip to Alaska, said that she believes art is key to unlocking interest to science.
“Sure, trend lines on a graph provide a great deal of information about our climate, but those figures only stick with a handful of people,” Karafotias said. “Telling stories rooted in art allows for a more profound science narrative.”
After collecting stories from the area, the team then returns to UO to create a collection of stories for the public to see. Their work won an honorable mention in the international Fast Company World-Changing Ideas competition in 2019, made the short list for the One Show in New York City, received UO’s first Hearst award for Multimedia and has been presented in the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.
Their latest project was a collaboration of all kinds of journalism. Kristin Kessler, another UO student that went on the trip, said that highlighting the pressing issue of climate change with several kinds of mediums would yield more people willing to listen.
“We need to make room in our society’s discussion about climate change for stories told in ways that are different from our American status-quo,” Kessler said. “Some people will never be moved by an article in a newspaper, but one visual demonstration may change that person’s entire perspective.”
Science is often viewed as graphs, numbers, beakers and lectures through social media, according to the Pew Research Center. However, these four groups are working to show the world that science and climate change don’t have to be that simplistic.
Leif Karlstrom said he creates music from volcanoes to show science in an engaging way, while Lucy Jones said that she plays the viola to display the seriousness of climate change to people globally.
ArtSci, according to Anne Martin, was designed to create a community around science, and to celebrate the beauty within it, while Science & Memory is a program dedicated to telling complex stories of adaptation to the climate and environmental change, according to their website.