Six MIT professors and three alumni are among 50 Nobel laureates asked to “sketch their science” and pose with the resulting art for an unusual multimedia exhibition. The award-winning German photographer behind the project, Volker Steger, was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT from 2000–01.

Steger provided each laureate with a poster-sized sheet of white paper and set of crayons, and asked them to draw their discovery. He then snapped photos of each laureate holding, pointing to, or even wearing their art. The life-size photos radiate the fun and personality that is often missing from the media coverage of scientists.

Most of the pictures were taken at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. “It was the perfect place. The atmosphere is relaxed. I hope that shows!” says Steger, who spoke to SPECTRVM via email.

The laureates had no advance notice of what the photo shoot would entail. “The important thing is surprise. Otherwise you get PowerPoint presentations,” says Steger. “Also, deprive them of their beloved markers and chalk and use crayons! Crayons have character, and last forever.” Steger notes that most laureates are also teachers. So, “they are familiar with sketching and expressing their ideas. I got the idea that most liked the approach.”

Steger concludes, “For me, the most important part of the project is that it shows what kind of people these laureates are (at least I hope so), and at the same time there is some representation of their scientific work. That is new. Think of how Nobel laureates are usually photographed.”

The Sketches of Science exhibition of Steger’s portraits is complemented by interviews with the laureates. It is currently on display in Seoul, South Korea, through November 23. It will travel to the United States early next year, where it will open January 7 at the University of California, Davis.

Sketches of Science was produced by the Nobel Museum in collaboration with the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings. Interviews were made in collaboration with Nobel Media.

Peruse a PDF of Sketches of Science, featuring 50 Nobel laureates.

Watch a short video about the exhibit’s creation.

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