Public Art for Magnifying Minds

Photograph by Garrett Ann Walters.

CSENND, the Bloomington Arts Commission, and CFC Properties have joined forces to boost informal science communication through creation of public art that explores the concepts of size and scale in everyday life. Visit the alley adjacent to Wonderlab to take a journey into different magnifications of a leaf, created by local artist Erin Tobey.

Erin Tobey, Artist’s Statement

Photograph by Chaz Mottinger/Courtesy of the Artist.

“I propose a mural that shows a journey through the microscope to explore inside plants and how cellulose nanocrystals can be turned into useful technologies to enrich human and environmental health. (Entering from the northern end), the mural in this rendering represents a viewer and a tulip poplar leaf, moving into its microscopic structure… (the mural comes) back up from the nanoscale into technological applications that ends back up in a child-scale world on the southern end of the mural near Wonderlab. I’m excited about this project as an artist who loves the challenge of communicating big or complicated ideas in an accessible way.”

Erin Tobey’s illustration for public mural.

Learn about Erin Tobey.

CSENND’s Statement

We live in a world where both big and small numbers are commonly cited to explain challenging concepts, and understanding the scale of everyday objects is important to making informed decisions. Whether it be the selection of an appropriate filter to remove virus particles from a classroom or the decision to leave a coastal region as a hurricane approaches, an understanding of size and scale can be useful. We are excited by this mural for helping to introduce the microscopic and nanoscale world to viewers. A girl’s microscopic journey through a leaf and its structure of cells and nanoscale crystals of cellulose hints at what is often unseen by our eyes yet can be useful to everyday life. For example, the central blue portion of the mural reveals cellulose crystals colored in white which can be used to create filters to remove pollutants from water. This concept is abstractly depicted with the blue waves that provide water to the mural’s tree, helping to maintain the world we live in and enjoy.

Shown below is the right portion of the mural. On the right is a young individual looking at a leaf with an optical microscope. Moving to the left is the journey through the leaf and its structure at increasing magnifications, revealing smaller and smaller features. The approximate real-life sizes (lengths) of the various features are denoted at the top in the commonly used unit of inches. Below, they are identified and their lengths are designated in the metric system, with units of meters (m) down to nanometers (nm).

Image created by CSENND student Nabojit Kar.

You can compare the lengths of the objects in the mural to other common objects shown here.

Image created by CSENND member Madison Edwards.

Watch this video to learn how we see the unseen (and a bit about ants too).


John Hamilton’s Statement, Mayor of Bloomington, IN

“The NSF mural initiative exemplifies the power of applying the arts to scientific understanding to bring new awareness and appreciation for the ways that the natural world and humankind depend on each other. The City celebrates the precedent this project sets for meaningful public art.”

Outreach Events

CSENND will be at the 4th and Rogers Block Party June 7, 5-9 pm.

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Educational Materials

Coming soon!