This image from Caltech’s semiannual Art of Science competition highlights the beauty of scientific mistakes. Graduate student Chen Xu, who works in materials science, was attempting to plate a smooth layer of gold on top of a truss—a carefully designed lattice functioning as a cathode—for a lithium-oxygen battery, a very clean and reusable type of battery. Formed out of a polymer, the truss must be plated with gold to make it conductive. But when the precious metal was being plated onto the structure, the process went too fast and the gold formed the flowery, tree-like crystals, called dendrites, seen above. Each “bouquet” or node is about 150 microns across, or approximately double the thickness of a human hair. The photo was taken using a scanning electron microscope, a machine that shoots focused beams of electrons at a specimen and measures the scattering to get very high-resolution images.
by Andrew Allan
As a teenager, Christa Robbins began her college career intent on becoming a painter. But after a few years toiling in oils on canvas and earning her bachelor of fine arts degree in painting and printmaking, she realized she was more interested in studying art than in making it. So Robbins left the studio behind to become an art historian—a rare transition for someone in her shoes. “I made the conscious decision to stop making art,” she says.
Three years later, she landed at the University of Chicago, studying under art and media theorist W. J. T. Mitchell; she focused on modern abstract painting and criticism and earned her PhD in 2010. After teaching appointments at the University of Illinois, Chicago; Cornell College; and Texas Christian University, Robbins came to Caltech in 2013 as the Mellon Caltech-Huntington Postdoctoral Instructor in Art History, a position created by John Brewer, Caltech’s Eli and Edye Broad Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences and professor of history and literature.
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