The Art of Science

By Jess Radford, Deakin University

A very important part of research as a scientist is being able to communicate what you have worked on to a wider audience. The general public have varied knowledge and levels of understanding of science so the simpler, clearer, and more engaging the message, the better. The message can be communicated through blogs, documentaries, podcasts, even art. There has always been an ‘us versus them’ mentality between the arts and the sciences. But at the best of times they come together for a common purpose. From the beautiful natural history illustrations of animal specimens, to Attenborough’s documentaries enthralling young and old with sublime cinematography, it’s all a unification of the two disciplines.

Cartoon of 'Sampling the Abyss' that hangs on the wall of the lounge on RV Investigator.  In the picture, RV Investigator can be seen at the surface and a submersible with 4 people is down below amongst angler fish, octopi, and other creatures of the deep.
Fantastic art work in the lounge of the RV Investigator that I love to look at!

I am learning so much during my CAPSTAN voyage, about so much fantastic science from entirely different disciplines that I had no prior knowledge of. Something that took me by surprise was the use of a fascinating piece of oceanography equipment to create miniature works of art. The CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) is a carousel that holds 36 bottles and is lowered to the oceans depths. On the way back up to the surface, bottles are closed at particular points to obtain samples from different depths of the ocean. While all of this fantastic ocean water sampling is happening, a mesh bag of polystyrene cups that have been decorated are accompanying the CTD down into the oceans depths and back up again. The magic trick is that the polystyrene cups, that are for the most-part made of air, experience the extreme pressure of the oceans depths and the air is squeezed right out of them. What a fantastic way to demonstrate the immense pressure of the oceans depths than with little pieces of art.

CAPSTAN student Jess wears her hardhat as she stands next to the CTD rosette.  The rosette is taller than Jess, with the top of the niskin bottles lining its edge about even with her head.  The sensors (CTD itself) are at the lower part of the cage.
Myself next to the CTD rosette for scale. The CTD can withstand extreme depths, it all depends on the length of the wire available to lower it. The lowest we took the CTD on the CAPSTAN voyage was 4.5 km (into an underwater canyon!)

The “D” in CTD stands for “Depth” but is more of a representation of hydrostatic pressure, the pressure of the water above (and around). So the deeper into the water, the greater the increase of pressure. The CTD and the polystyrene cups can withstand a lot more pressure than we possibly could, which is evident in the air that is lost from the cups at such great depths and amounts of pressure. I decorated three cups; drawing the phytoplankton that would be sampled in the CTD bottles, the CTD itself, and my personal experiences on RV Investigator.

Phytoplankton are plant and algae that occur in a variety of beautiful shapes ranging in size from a few mm to the very tiniest most microscopic. Phytoplankton is extremely important in our oceans as it is the very first link in the food web, providing food for many animals. They are also an important part of the carbon cycle, storing carbon and producing around 70% of the worlds oxygen. So as you might imagine, measuring and collecting quantities and types of phytoplankton in our oceans is very important in monitoring ecosystem health locally and globally.

My three little artworks: phytoplankton, the CTD, and a view of the foremast that I see from the bird and mammal observation deck every day. All next to a full-sized polystyrene cup for scale.

Phytoplankton appears again on my CTD cup. For that cup I drew the CTD carousel that holds the sampling bottles, and drew the sampling bottles representing the different measurements taken by the CTD; oxygen, conductivity (salinity), temperature, current velocities, nitrate, fluorescence (light), and pressure/depth. Generally people aren’t going to know what all of these things are, so my illustrations attempt to convey these in a more approachable way. For example conductivity/salinity is represented as a salt shaker. Even with my science background, I don’t fully understand the ins and outs of all of the measurements and hydrochemistry involved with the CTD, but I hope I’ve presented it in a way that bridges the gap for most people. It’s not so easy to draw on a polystyrene cup, so these aren’t absolute masterpieces, but I hope they’re a good form of communicating some of the science from onboard RV Investigator!

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