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Nobel Prize Winners Show Playful Side in Crayon Drawings

A new photography exhibit suggests that, while Nobel laureates may be geniuses in their field, most aren't very good at coloring.
/ Source: LiveScience

A new photography exhibit suggests that, while Nobel laureates may be geniuses in their field, most aren't very good at coloring.

The exhibit, called "Sketches of Science: Photo Sessions with Nobel Laureates," opened at the University of California, Davis, campus this week. It features the hastily scrawled crayon drawings of some of the most esteemed scientists in the world.

Photographer Volker Steger decided to put the laureates' coloring skills to the test in order to capture something "spontaneous," he said in a statement. [ See photos of the Nobel Prize winners and their drawings ]

To get these candid shots, each laureate was first given a handful of crayons and a large sheet of paper and was asked to sketch out his or her Nobel Prize-winning discovery. Then, they held up these masterpieces as their photos were taken.

"All the laureates I met for a photo shoot were quite surprised by my exceptional request, because I did not inform them beforehand," Steger said. "The sketches turned out to be as varied as the Nobel laureates who drew them. But they all equally demonstrate the beauty of intellectual concepts — and of minds at work."

The laureates' approach to Steger's crafty request varied widely. Carlo Rubbia — winner of the 1984 Nobel Prize in physics for work that led to the discovery of W and Z bosons, elementary particles that make up part of the Standard Model of particle physics — drew himself cooking up atoms in a frying pan. Virologist Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard drew a swarm of fruit flies. Nüsslein-Volhard took home the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1995 for her research on the role of genetics in embryonic development. Her experiments were carried out on fruit flies.

Leon M. Lederman won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1988 for his research on quarks and leptons, two elementary particles that serve as the building blocks of all matter. But Lederman didn't draw any particles on his paper — just a group of scientists cheering over their new, shiny Nobel medals. Richard E. Taylor also won a Nobel for his work in particle physics in 1990. He didn't draw anything at all. When asked why his paper was blank, his response was, "There's a quark somewhere on that paper."

But all of the photos do have at least one thing in common: they all feature "playful people," according to Olov Amelin, director of the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, where this exhibition was initially launched in 2012.

"[Steger] created wonderful opportunities to take personal portraits, in which playfulness and creativity are central themes," Amelin said in a statement.

The exhibit, which runs through tomorrow (Jan. 10), is free and open to the public.