Author: Constantinos Morfakis – National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Greece


  • Yannis Hatzikiriakos – National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Department of Communication and Mass Media, Greece

In our time, the interaction between science and performing arts updates famous C.P. Snow’s view of “two cultures” (1956) – which science and the arts/humanities are at “war” with each other – to a “third culture” that arts and science may actually build a harmonious relationship. According to Lustig and Shepherd-Barr (2002) “science is in vogue on stage as it has never been before. The best of these plays go far beyond using science as an ornament or a plot device”.

In this paper, we consider issues about the public image of a famous women scientist in the award-winning drama of Anna Ziegler, called Photograph 51 (2015). The “bioplay” is known for its revelation of the laboratory life of x-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin and her often-overlooked role in the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA whilst at King’s College London, where she shared a laboratory with the molecular biologist Maurice Wilkins.

Making use of actor-network theory (ANT), our given reading of Photograph 51 opens the “black box” of technoscience. In Latour’s terms (2005), this drama shapes a public image of technoscience as a network of heterogeneous elements which are taking place within a set of diverse practices. In STS’s terms, Photograph 51 depicts the laboratory life (Latour & Woolgar 1986) and science in action (Latour 1987) highlighting the Baconian character of modern science (Ihde 2004; Hacking, 1983). Alongside, drawn upon Gender Studies (Keller, 1987; Fliker 2003), we point how Photograph 51 shapes a feminist image of woman scientist in a male dominated scientific community. It invites us to look at the way women are treated in science today by looking at the subject through the prism of the past. In this context, Photograph 51 proves performing arts to be an advantageous medium that transforms the up-to-now way of science communication.

Presentation type: Insight talk
Theme: Time

Author: Constantinos Morfakis, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece

Co-authors: Yannis Hatzikiriakos

The opera, as an undoubtedly a large-scale artistic and cultural event, which portrays social behaviour patterns and often criticizes a number of socio-political issues. Furthermore, as a popular spectacle nowadays through digital technology (online streaming and live in HD), the lyric art and great opera productions can reach the most remote corner of the planet.

In this paper, we consider issues about the public image of scientist in the opera of contemporary American composer John Adams, in libretto of Peter Sellars, called Doctor Atomic (2005). The opera focuses on the great stress and anxiety experienced by those at Los Alamos while the test of the first atomic bomb (the “Trinity” test) was being prepared. Doctor Atomic concerns the final hours leading up to the first atomic bomb explosion at the Alamagordo test site in New Mexico in July of 1945. The focal characters are the physicist and Manhattan Project director, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer; his wife Kitty; Edward Teller; and General Leslie Groves, the US Army commander of the project.

More specific, we shall attempt to examine the following issues in the opera Doctor Atomic and in connection to recent developments in STS scholarship and Science Communication. First, we are interested in the shaping of the public image of a famous scientist in a modern opera which is available online. Second, we pay special attention to the directing of opera and how this contributes in the shaping of a public imaginary about the nuclear bomb and its creators. Finally, we are focusing on the official website of the opera and in which way the informative content that provides for the first atomic bomb constructs a public image for this. We believe that Doctor Atomic provides us with interesting insights on contemporary questions regarding public communication of science and technology