Biomedical science meets art

Well I don’t know what inspired me more in Vegas, the museum devoted to Leonardo Da Vinci or the Chuck Jones exhibition. I think both inspired me equally because they combined my love of the human body with my love of art and animation. Biomedical science after all is a visual subject with the use of microscopy to study cells and tissues, so the subject often appeals to the artist in us.

Leonardo was a genius there is no doubt, as an artist, scientist and inventor. His drawings of human anatomy as with many artists of that time originated from the dissection of exhumed bodies. In 15th century Italy in fact human dissection at medical schools such as Padua were public events, and this is where the word “carnival” reportedly originated with “carne” meaning meat. These public events included musicians and entertainers as well as eminent surgeons of the day. This was biomedical science in its merest infancy with the preliminary beginnings of experimentation at this time such as those conducted by William Harvey which led to his discovery of the circulatory system.

As well as advancing the understanding of human anatomy through his drawings, Leonardo sketched out many inventions and innovations, particularly around the quest for flight. However it was also suggested that many of these ideas may not have been his own, and were talked about at that time which he then may just have sketched for himself.

Arts and science banner

Most fascinating was a recent study using a range of photographic techniques to study closely the Mona Lisa. It was interesting to note that she has no eyebrows or eyelashes and schools of thought now suggest that the delicate paint work simply had not lasted over time, rather than Leonardo causing interest and controversy by not giving her these features. If we get all scientific for a moment, arts meets science again in one of the techniques called spectroscopy which is a laboratory technique in biomedical science and also a version of it – Raman spectroscopy – is a way of fingerprinting paint pigments and is used to authenticate oil paintings and determine which pigments and paints were used.

Well onto another fine artist and the work of Charles Jones – or beloved Chuck Jones who drew many of our favourite cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Pepe le Pew and Road Runner, and so many more. Being an amateur animator myself I can appreciate the incredible amount of work that went into creating some 30 frames per second; all cells were hand drawn and painted by teams of animators and artists and then painstakingly filmed. Of course we can automate the process today using Adobe Flash, but as with anything digital you loose the depth and richness of colour that a computer simply cannot represent.

Being from near Nottingham I have to particularly like his rendition of Robin Hood and his merry men! Of course his characters were brought to life by the vocal skills of Mel Blank who worked for the studios for over 60 years. The created cartoons were genius although it is sad that gone is the day where the television schedules would have a five minute interlude for a Looney Tunes Cartoon from Warner Brothers.

Robin Hood and his Merry Men


I think the quote of the day goes to Leonardo though,

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do”.

Absolutely – just DO IT! I did, and I ended up in Las Vegas!

Viv Rolfe


Open Education Resources Showcase Animation

Open education resourcesshowcase

Animated musical showcase of the De Montfort University HALSOER (Health and Life Science Open Education Resources) Project part of UKOER


Open Education resources Showcase

Image: Microscopy open educational resources.
Creative Commons BY SA.

Authors:                                                                       Level:

Content and animation by Dr Vivien Rolfe                                  All, public
Music “Powerglide” © Paull Topliss and performed by
Rocket 88 (Paul Topliss, Arthur Green, Doug Ebling, Fran Ebling, Vivien Rolfe)

OER Features:

Click for Animation showcase

OER Description:

A feature of many of our open education resources is the use of animation which is a fun and effective way to help learners understand about many biological systems and processes. In fact, research shows that animation and text (or a voice over) is a really effective way of learning, and students love using these resources.

I love animating and in particular setting things to music, so this OER combines the two to illustrate some of the features of our HALS project.

The animation was compiled for “Open Education Week” 5-12 March 2012, which is a week organised by the Open Courseware Consortium to raise awareness of open education resources– that is the sharing of educational materials and the networking of learners and teachers around the globe.

The HALS project is funded by the UKOER Programme run by the JISC and HEA, and my work is also supported by an Open University SCORE Fellowship. SCORE is the “support centre” for open education resources based at the Open University.

Dr Viv Rolfe

Biomedical Science Arts Resources

Open education resourcesBiomedical ScienceArts

biomedical science arts

Image: “Circulatory Map” by Montfort University student Jacob Escott.
Creative Commons BY SA.

Content Author:                                   Level:

Jacob Escott                                                            General interest

Biomedical Science OER Features:

Arts biomedical science circulatory mapArts biomedical science glass faceArts biomedical science systems

 Download all images

OER Description:

These OERs are three photographs of acrylic artwork created by student Jacob Escott. The fact that a fine artist is inspired by the human body and biomedical science is not a new concept. Early artists such as Andreas Vesalius born in 1514 studied dissected human bodies as an inspiration to his artwork.

For those interested in similar work and seeing how the world of arts and biomedical science are invariably intertwined, I would recommend visiting the Wellcome Collection on Euston Road in London. If you cannot reach London, there are a host of images on the Wellcome website.

Further Resources:

The Wellcome Collection, at: