Millefiori No. 01 (2012) Ferrofluid is a magnetic, hydrophobic liquid that forms colorful curves and channels when deposited onto a magnet and injected with watercolor paints. More starting at 5:20 in Oefner’s talk.
Formally trained in art and design, Oefner says that he has always been interested in science. Though he can’t pinpoint the exact moment when he became interested in pairing his two loves, he views both pursuits as inextricably linked by a crucial bond: “The most important quality of science or art is curiosity,” Oefner tells the TED Blog. “That’s what keeps me going and always finding something new.”
On the TED stage, Oefner demonstrates the science at work behind three of his photographs. As he explains his process, the mystical quality of the images gives way to understanding. But how important to him is it that the casual viewer of his artwork know the underlying scientific principles? Actually, not very. “I’m not too didactic about my work. If people just want to appreciate it for its beauty, that’s absolutely fine,” he tells us. “And if I present it without an explanation, people tend to come up with their own, which is often even more poetic.”
For an imagination-friendly, explanation-free viewing of Oefner’s work, watch the first 45 seconds of his talk. For viewers who’d rather forego the poetry in favor of learning, here are 10 close-up views of Oefner’s fascinating work – and, just as fascinatingly, how he made it. This gallery includes works from series both new and old (the first three are the examples featured in the talk), inspired by everything from scientific papers to household chores.