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A Nitty-Gritty Look at the Machines of Budget Science

Science labs seem more like art studios in the photographs of Daniel Stier.
August 4, 2015, 6:25pm
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Laboratory, Sensory Motor Neuroscience, University of Birmingham. Images courtesy the artist

A visual study of unsung research facilities reveals the ingenuity—and occasional absurdity—of the machines used to pump out science and statistics on a shoestring budget. Photographer Daniel Stier's new book, Ways of Knowing, documents the lightbulb-covered, human-whirling, skin-poking devices at labs that don't have the cash for sleek stainless steel or complex custom interfaces.

The resulting images feature a DIY aesthetic that toes the line between William Gibson-style cyberpunk novellas and experimental art installations. "[None of] the scientists has any real interest in promoting their facilities, unless they are really fancy and hightech. But more often than not it is a bit handmade hightech-lowtech," Steir tells The Creators Project. Seeing specialized scientists working at small schools or research facilities reminded him of his own process: "The parallels to the artistic community was what fascinated me. It’s all very laborious. Endless gathering of data. Lots of trial and error. Just like in the artist's studio."


Ways of Knowing takes these machines out of context—which he says he'll never reveal—and presents them as artworks in and of themselves, paired with blank pages that force readers to come up with their own stories. And, Stier says, there's one final twist: "I started to shoot my own fantasy experiments and combined them with the ‘real’ science. We all follow the same curiosity and obsession to search for some kind of order in the chaos."

Check out the results of his labor, and try to guess which ones are real, in the images below.

Institut für Arbeitsforschung, Technische Universität Dortmund

Vestibulo-okulomotorisches, Labor Neurologische Klinik Zürich

Fakultät für Elektro-und Informationstechnik, Ruhr Universität Bochum

Psychologisches Institut, Universität Zürich

Institut für Arbeitsforschung, Technische Universität Dortmund

Lehrstuhl für Ergonomie, Technische  Universität München

Institut für angewandte Trainingswissenschaften, Universität Leipzig

Department of cognitive Neurology, Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research, Universität Tübingen

Order Ways of Knowing here, and see more of Daniel Stier's work on his website. Got a theory about what these machines do? Tweet them to @CreatorsProject.


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