Renaming Newton's Cradle


Sir Isaac Newton is unarguably the most favored historical figure in the field of physics. Inspired by research I'd been conducting to learn more about Newton, I set out to design a minimalist graphic that conveyed the essence of man himself. Aha! The Newton's Cradle! It came to me in an instant. Five circles. Five lines. Instantly recognizable. Except, as I began to research the origin of the Netwon's Cradle, I discovered that this eccentric, ego-maniacal, mad-scientist crush of mine wasn't the first to use the collisions of pendulum balls to investigate momentum, mass, and the conservation of energy. What?!

To my surprise, the first scientist on record to have conducted experiments using the collision of pendulum balls was a person I'd not yet discovered in my scientific quests, 17th century French priest and physicist, Edme Mariotte. Prior to publishing his more widely known scientific paper, Discours de la nature de l’air (1676; “Discourse on the Nature of Air”), Mariotte published Traité de la percussion ou choc des corps (1673; "Treatise on the Percussion or Impact of Bodies"). In his treatise, he provided the first scientific observations of the laws of inelastic and elastic impact as applied to a variety of physical problems. Eventually, Newton would acknowledge Mariotte's work in his renowned publication, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687; Natural Philosophy), popularly known as the Principia.

Learning about the Newton's Cradle uniquely sparked my curiosity about how history is recorded and taught. Even today, conducting online research about this topic results in finding conflicting information. Some sources attribute the origin of the Newton's Cradle to John Wallis, Christopher Wren and Christiaan Huygens, while others credit Mariotte. Yet others maintain that Newton was worthy of the attribution because of his contributions to our understanding of the laws of motion.

Setting out to design a minimalist graphic as a tribute to Newton took an unexpected turn. What I've learned about conducting the research that informs my art is to let curiosity be my guide, to set aside assumptions, and to embrace surprises. If it were within my power to rename the cradle today, I'd most certainly call it Mariotte's Cradle. Instead, I'm sharing about how I was inspired to pay homage to one scientist on my quest to honor another.

Seize the moment of excited curiosity
on any subject to solve your doubts;
for if you let it pass, the desire may
never return, and you may remain
in ignorance."

-William Wirt, American Statesman, 1772-1834

001_072217 // Edme Mariotte, Traité de la percussion ou choc des corps, 1673.  #physics   #science   #minimalism   #stem   #scicomm

001_072217 // Edme Mariotte, Traité de la percussion ou choc des corps, 1673. #physics #science #minimalism #stem #scicomm

ThinkArtPrint_Digital_Framed_Mockups_Edme Mariotte.png

Hidden Inspiration

It took me a while and quite a bit of effort to get through the book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. Maybe it was because I saw the movie twice before finishing it, thereby breaking one of my cardinal rules pertaining to book reading and movie watching. Or perhaps my difficulties relate more to the way in which the book was fashioned together, as if the story was more of a series of vignettes loosely connected by a common theme. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the information and insights the author provided. It was a good challenge for me to focus and read not for entertainment alone, but for the benefit of learning.

Moreover, Shetterly wrote this description of NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson that deeply moved me:

"She seemed to absorb the short term oscillations of life without being dislodged by them, as though she were actually standing back observing that both travail and elation were merely part of a much larger, much smoother curve." -Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures

Reading this masterful characterization of Johnson, using terminology from her world of mathematics to describe her essence, stirred my imagination. My mind immediately formed the idea for the art print below. This visualization of life's oscillations, the ups-and-downs, along the large, smooth curve of life serving as a reminder to me for how to live.

Shetterly's story about the history of NACA, its significant contributions to the development of modern aerospace technologies, the early days of NASA, and the women of Langley's West Computing Group changed me. It helped me to further understand the value of pursuing dreams, even when the challenges seem insurmountable. Layered in this story is inspiration that would otherwise be hidden from our world. Whether we are aiming for the moon (or now Mars), overcoming personal challenges such as the death of a loved one, finding a new normal after a relationship has ended, struggling with self-doubt, or pursuing a passion despite society's demands and expectations, there is a valuable lesson for each of us in Shetterly's work. Let us not be swayed too much by the oscillations of life. Instead, let us treat life as a long, smooth curve upon which we are riding.

Click the image to enlarge.

I Am A Time Traveler

If you could time travel, to what moments in time would you go? Among many other moments, I would journey back to my elementary, middle, and high school years to inspire my younger self to develop a deeper curiosity about how the universe works. I'd motivate myself to dive fearlessly into science and mathematics, including all that Mr. Ray, my high school Physics teacher, was enthusiastically offering up during fifth period of my senior year. I would see to it that my younger self embrace the fun and excitement of learning about the notable people who have contributed to humanity's understanding of our place in the universe.

Devoid of time travel technology (so far), I'm doing the next best thing in my middle years by traveling down the path of scientific curiosity I bypassed in my youth. Better later than never. Researching the historic notables, their profound discoveries, and current innovations in STEM such as reusable rocketry, electric vehicles, and hyperloop transport (thank you Elon Musk!), the private space race, and NASA missions, to name a few, has become a passion. Additionally, music, nature, literature, and various aspects of culture fascinate me. I've connected this passion and areas of interest to my love of art/digital illustration. It is at the unique intersection of art and science where I conduct most of my curiosity-fueled expeditions.

ThinkArtPrint began to formulate in my mind a few years ago when working on my first Isaac Newton (1643-1727) art print. I sought to convert my telescopic view of his discoveries into a microscopic understanding of his work and life. I wanted to know, "Why is he called The Father of Modern Science?" There, amidst the research I found a man vastly more interesting that the rudimentary version I'd learned about in my youth. Newton was no longer the simple caricature who had an epiphany under an apple tree. Rather, his life is one that reflected the full spectrum of color. Newton's earlier years seem to have been painted in the darker tones of a complex, difficult, protective, introverted, insecure, temperamental, religious, occultist, unmovable, and depressed man. Paradoxically, his later years were generally painted in brighter hues as a generous, kind, affable, socialite with fewer dark strokes. One man, many colors.

As I reflect on this personal journey of mine into the life of Newton, it truly feels as if I've reached into the past. By doing so, I've gotten closer to knowing the man behind so many important ideas and discoveries. Perhaps this is my own form of time travel; researching the history of science, translating what I learn into art, and sharing it with other curious minds. I'm excited about what discoveries await me as I continue to peer into the past, survey the present, and envision the future.

- Lorena

The latest iteration of my Sir Isaac Newton art print was completed in February 2017. Click image to enlarge.

Layered patterns and textures add interest and depth.

Layered patterns and textures add interest and depth.

The print features astronomical and/or alchemical symbols Newton used for earth, sun/gold, and moon.

The print features astronomical and/or alchemical symbols Newton used for earth, sun/gold, and moon.