Project Description

Roger Malina, Arts and Technology Distinguished Chair

Dr. Roger Malina personifies the blending of art and science — he is a distinguished professor of arts and technology as well as a professor of physics.

When Art Becomes Science

By Amanda Siegfried
March 5, 2018

This article originally appeared in “Blurred Lines” by Amanda Siegfried from the Fall 2017 edition of UT Dallas Magazine

The School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication, which spun out of the School of Arts and Humanities in 2015, offers academic tracks that include critical media studies, mediated communication, games, animation, and design and production.

Its name and its mission alike describe the promise of seamlessly blending multimodal ways of thinking, creating and innovating, with more than 1,500 students and faculty devoted to pursuits that bridge the creative and the technical.

Dr. Roger Malina, who joined the UT Dallas faculty in 2011 as the Arts and Technology Distinguished Chair, embodies the intermingling of art and science, with dual appointments in ATEC and the Department of Physics in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. As a space scientist with expertise in extreme ultraviolet astrophysics, he directed astrophysics laboratories in France and California, led observational satellite projects for NASA, and is dedicated to merging arts and humanities with science and engineering.

“ARTECA champions and documents the work of the new ‘hybrid’ professionals whose academic pursuits bridge the arts and sciences.”

Two hundred years ago, before the widespread use of photography, artists and illustrators were key members of scientific expeditions, he said. Their role was to represent what they were seeing.

“Today, scientists struggle with how to visualize amazingly complex data, so there is a new role for artists, not just in the service of science, but to make sense of it using artistic and design methods,” Malina said.

As scientific illustration has moved into the digital age, it has transformed into data representation, which includes concepts such as sonification, visualization, and virtual or augmented reality, all areas where artists and designers thrive.

In 2013, Malina founded the ArtSciLab at UT Dallas to facilitate new forms of collaboration between artists and scientists. Building on his decades of experience as executive editor of the Leonardo suite of publications from MIT Press, which provide a platform for the arts/science/technology scholarly community, he and his ArtSciLab collaborators recently added to that suite ARTECA, a digital publishing project led by Cassini Nazir, clinical associate professor in ATEC.

“ARTECA champions and documents the work of the new ‘hybrid’ professionals whose academic pursuits bridge the arts and sciences,” Malina said.

The ArtSciLab collaborations involve a mix of established UT Dallas scientists, computer programmers, artists and art historians translating data to sight, sound and experience.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has funded one such project to “sonify” imaging data from the brain. Combining the expertise of Dr. Gagan Wig, assistant professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and in the Center for Vital Longevity, with that of sound designer Scot Gresham-Lancaster in ATEC, the approach allows data from MRI scans to be represented by sounds from which a trained listener might be able to discern patterns of brain connectivity not readily seen through available visualization strategies.

The goal is to produce a kind of “data stethoscope” to compare brain networks of healthy and unhealthy individuals.

The effort is creating not only a new way for scientists to study complex functions of the brain but also an opportunity to “perform” data in art settings, said Gresham-Lancaster, assistant professor in the sound design program.