Recognisable scientists versus artists

According to the promoters of a new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London aimed at UK Scientific Heritage: “Scientists are no longer unrecognisable boffins” thanks to the Science in Focus exhibition, which runs until 17 January 2010.

Well…I take issue with that remark! Which of the following faces do you recognise?


I suspect that most sciencebase readers will recognise all of them being the clever lot they are, but what about the general public? Einstein and Hawking, certainly, Darwin this year only, Dawkins, perhaps. But would they know their Constable from their Monet or spot outmoded and overpriced Brit pop artist Damien Hirst among this crowd?

Of course, the exhibition is all about modern scientists, so perhaps I’m being a little unfair:

Ludmilla Jordanova, a National Portrait Gallery Trustee explains that, “As well as being interesting for the general public, the pictures are of educational interest to school parties visiting the Gallery, depicting the scientists as real people rather than names on a page or computer screen.”

You can find out more here. And as a testing taster, here’s a montage of four of the featured scientists, do you recognise them? Maybe the promoters were right after all, eh?


Clockwise from top left: Sir James Black, Sir Michael Atiyah, Michael Green, John Maynard-Smith. Green, a pioneer of string theory, this month succeeds
Professor Stephen Hawking as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge
University and is one of just eleven eminent British scientists photographed by Somerset-based photographers Anita Corbin and John O’Grady whose work is on display in London for the first time.

4 thoughts on “Recognisable scientists versus artists”

  1. When I give a research talk, I sometimes “stream” a second talk in the margins with either the details only specialists want to know or, more likely, bits of historical context. The holding slide at the end is a quiz — my favorite is the can you match the face with the name. Some are iconic, some are not…but the results are generally good.

    Wish I were going to be able to see the exhibit….

  2. I think the question they haven’t asked is whether it is actually a good thing to have scientists depicted “as real people rather than names on a page or computer screen”, when the vast majority of those scientists in question are (a) men, (b) old or (c) old men. Not great for engaging with youngsters or women, is it?

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