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Scientific Facts From Wikipedia, Distilled Into Lovely Pictures

Two young photographers create photo illustrations of Wikipedia facts. It’s as if Wikipedia started an art magazine!

Besides providing high schoolers with a rich source for plagiarism, Wikipedia supports a lively online discourse, where hobbyists and academics mercilessly desecrate each other’s contributions.

For example, the page explaining Surface Tension has been revised more than 80 times in the last four months. One of those revisions, made on January 20th, added a beautiful photograph of leaves floating on the surface of a swimming pool to the page. The image inspired a flurry of comments and revisions from Wikipedia users, from “sorry, this needs a reference” to “leaves floating is a matter of buoyancy, not surface tension.”

Toughened Glass

Little did the commenters know, they were taking part in a project by two young photographers named Andrea P. Nguyen and Max J. Marshall.

Disambiguation explains complex scientific principles with single photographs, using Wikipedia as a source. The Brooklyn-by-way-of-Austin artists selected 14 Wikipedia entries on scientific principles, ranging from miscibility to contact angle, and composed a single photograph to demonstrate each concept. They uploaded the final photographs into the original Wiki pages, replacing images they had used for source material. After that, it was up to the community to decide whether the photographs were appropriate.

Nguyen says that she and Marshall were “interested in phenom and spectacle” of a single image explaining facts determined by years of scientific study. For the record, about half of the images have been removed since they were uploaded, though they’re all still visible in the revision histories.

Pumice

Disambiguation is as much a commentary on Wikipedia as it is an art project. “In using Wikipedia as the sole source for reference imagery,” explains Nguyen, “we were still using the website the way it was intended to be used.”

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.

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