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Technology

Photo Gallery: When Artists Take Over the Science Fair

DiscoblogBy Eliza StricklandJune 12, 2010 12:32 AM

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Who doesn't miss the excitement, the curiosity, the baking soda volcanoes of the typical grade-school science fair? Even the cutting-edge artists behind NYC's Flux Factory got a little nostalgic recently, and decided to host a science fair of their own--but the displays are decidedly atypical, and there's nary a volcano in sight. Try quantum physics and robots instead. The science fair art exhibit was inspired by "the similarity between the creative and scientific process," according to the organizers. And did we mention the trophies? Shiny awards were handed out to artists at an award ceremony last night for the best projects in such categories as "Big Violence," "Most Empirically Rebellious," and "Most Metaphysically Pursued."

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Science Fair runs through this weekend, so head over to Queens to check it out. Or you can click through this gallery for a selection of our favorite projects.

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The drawing robots need little explanation: Bots that draw, how cool is that? At the fair, artist and inspired tinkerer Samwell Freeman took up a controller with the warning, "This bot's a little tentative." Then he gave a demo of how to angle the controller to drive the remote-control bot forward, back, left, and right (the controller packs an accelerometer, just like an iPhone or a Wii controller). The bot is outfitted with a felt pen, and the press of a button on the controller lowers the pen's tip to the paper. Soon Freeman's bot was tracing wide green circles on the paper, tentative no more.

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Flint Weisser's elegant collection of devices and artwork could be titled "fun with electromagnetism." Weisser created the lovely patterns above by carefully arranging differently shaped magnets, then using iron filings to reveal the magnetic fields and resin plates to preserve them for posterity. At Science Fair, Weisser had a quicker and easier set-up available for visitors to try. I happily made my own magnet arrangement, slapped a thin sheet of wax paper over the design, and sprinkled iron filings over the paper. Weisser whipped out a heat gun and melted the filings into the wax paper, and presto: magneto-art.

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"Now teleporting #362579." That was the call from the quantum teleportation booth. This project took many leaps and bounds beyond the current science of quantum teleportation, in which information rather than matter is transmitted across great distances via mysterious connections between entangled particles. That reality didn't stop artist Chad Stayrook from offering to entangle all the atoms in a volunteer's body with a collection of atoms in another locale. "So you can go wherever you want in the universe, while also remaining right here at the science fair in Queens," said Stayrook to a reluctant participant. To pull off the effect, he posed his subjects in front of a green screen, then added the image of their bodies to a video showing, for example, a trek through a lunar landscape.

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Here's a new project for an urban scavenger: Go out in search of a rare urban meteorite. These silicon-rich lumps of metal appear to fall to the Earth frequently in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, where the artists Niels Cosman and Audra Wolowiec coincidentally live. In accordance with standard practice, these individual meteorites are given names based on the locations where they were found; thus an urban meteorite from Berry Street is called a Berryte. The artists note that the mysterious specimens are always accompanied by silica crystals known as "street diamonds."

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This art project from an "imagined future" was inspired by a particularly dark and sketchy street near where Wolowiec lived for a time, the artists say. The constant street litter of broken glass from busted-in car windows got them thinking about beauty and violence. Cosman says: "Meteorites can be associated with such trauma and destruction, but they're also remarkable and wonderful objects." The two decided to produce their own citified version of these complicated tokens.

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There's plenty more to see at Science Fair, like this cabinet of curiosities and an investigation into how people can communicate with glaciers. And there are more interactive exhibits as well, like one project that lets an artist use a brain-scanning headset to measure your stress or relaxation responses to a set of images--my results showed a relaxation response to baking cookies and a sleepy cat, but I was stressed out by an oil derrick, a first-person-shooter video game, and, weirdly, Marcel Duchamp's modern art urinal. Are you stressed out by modern art? Only one way to find out: Head to Queens. Related Content: DISCOVER: Art That Breathes and Grows--Because It's Made Out of Plants DISCOVER: Museum-Worthy Garbage: The Art of Over-Consumption

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