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  • Scientific Delirium Madness Gallery
  • Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs, Curtis W. Frank, Donna Sternberg, Sasha Petrenko, Meredith Tromble, Dawn Sumner, and Pireeni Sundaralingam


Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs

On 12 April 1955, when the world learned that Jonas Salk’s vaccine could prevent poliomyelitis, he became an international hero overnight. Revered by the public, he was snubbed by the scientific community—the one group whose praise he craved.

Salk’s historic role in preventing polio overshadowed his part in co-developing the first influenza vaccine, his pioneering work on AIDS, and his efforts to meld the sciences and humanities in the Salk Institute. It is this latter part of Salk’s life that I focused on during Scientific Delirium Madness.

In 1959, Sir C. P. Snow’s “The Two Cultures” became Salk’s bible. Salk agreed that literary intellectuals and scientists rarely communicated, and when they did it was often adversarial. Lawmakers rarely considered scientific implications when setting public policy; scientists didn’t necessarily consider mankind’s well being in their research endeavors. “I felt there ought to be a place,” Salk said, “for biological studies but which also contained the conscience of man.” Searching for a site whose natural beauty stimulated harmony, he chose La Jolla, California, where Louis Kahn built an architectural masterpiece. Although the Salk Institute is considered one of the premier research institutes, Salk felt sad that in the end science trumped humanism at his beloved Institute.

As I interacted with the resident artists and scientists during Scientific Delirium Madness, sharing the creative process and witnessing collaborations, I thought about Salk’s dream. As a physician and biographer, I am grateful to the Djerassi Resident Artists Program (DRAP), the Patricia E. Bashaw and Eugene Segre Fellowship, and Leonardo for their efforts to blend the two cultures. That month I could sense Jonas Salk walking between the Artist’s Barn and Middlebrook Writing Studios saying, “Yes, this is what I was striving for.”

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Jonas Salk all but eradicated polio from the face of the Earth, and the scientific community never forgave him.

(Image courtesy of Jonas Salk Papers, Mandeville Special Collections and Archives, UC San Diego)

Jonas Salk: A Life was released by Oxford University Press in May 2015.

Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs:
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Curtis W. Frank

My path to Scientific Delirium Madness in the Djerassi Resident Artists Program (DRAP) began with an introductory sophomore seminar called “Art, Chemistry and Madness: The Science of Art Materials” that I have taught at Stanford University for the past 8 years. This course includes my lectures on the materials science of objects of art, studio lab activities led by my co-instructor Sara Loesch-Frank and behind-the-scenes access to the collection of the Cantor Arts Center with conservator Susan Roberts-Manganelli. I went “up on the mountain” intending to design a text that could teach the principles of materials science through examples provided by objects of cultural heritage. During the first two weeks of my “Gift of Time,” I concentrated on the book and on reading John Gage’s work on color theory that, prior to my time as a resident at Djerassi, had not risen high enough in priority. One of the topics that caught my attention was the CIE chromaticity scale developed in 1931 as a quantitative standard for industrial lighting. I became captivated by the possibility of abstracting this lighting standard in some physical way. I began by digging through various piles of “stuff ” on the DRAP property and collected some cast-off roof tiles and items from the woodpile. Working from the two-dimensional figure representing the lighting standard, I designed a three-dimensional object that captures some of the critical elements. The result is Chromaticity. The colors of the disks represent the fully saturated Newtonian colors, the heights of disks are related to the sensitivity of the human eye to visible light and the centrally located white oval represents the zone where appropriate combinations of colors mix to white. I had no idea that my month would lead to this.

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Curtis W. Frank, Chromaticity, painted...


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