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Inside The Bizarre World Of Scientific Research

Daniel Stier’s photographs of contemporary research institutes prove that science is so much weirder than any of us could imagine.

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Not all brilliant discoveries happen in MIT’s cutting-edge labs or Google’s over-the-top offices. In his new series Ways of Knowing, photographer Daniel Stier documents a less-glamorous setting for innovation: the scientific research institute. What he found tucked away in basement laboratories and academic offices could be straight from the set of a ’70s sci-fi film.

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Nodes and wires hang from hand-built metal contraptions. Test subjects are strapped into sinister-looking structures. Bulky computer monitors and and muted tones give Stier’s images a dated quality, though he shot everything recently, in state-of-the-art research institutes across Europe and the U.S., using large-format cameras to capture every last detail.

“It really struck me while I was there [ at the laboratories and research institutes] that we get the wrong idea of science when we look at something like National Geographic,” Stier says in an interview. “We think of lab coats, high-tech equipment–the realities couldn’t be more different.” In the Ergonomics department of the Technische Universitaet Munich, for example, Stier photographed a professor hanging horizontally from an aluminum structure, suspended by wires attached to velcro straps. He looks like he’s trapped in some sort of ’50s-era torture device. Science: glamorous, it ain’t.

These images are half of a two-part book, also titled Ways of Knowing, now available for pre-order. Flip the book over, and another series of photos shot at Stier’s studio in London shows the parallels between artist’s studios and scientific laboratories.

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About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.

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