The beauty of chemistry

12.30pm to 2.00pm, Tuesday 11 May

The Royal Institution of Great Britain GB United Kingdom W1S 4BS 21 Albemarle Street London
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  • Beauty can be found in surprising places

    Credit: Wenting Zhu and Yan Liang
  • A snowflake, whose six sided-structure is a result of ice's underlying chemistry


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Event description

Chemistry is not just about microscopic atoms doing inscrutable things; it is the process that makes flowers and galaxies. We rely on it for bread-baking, vegetable-growing, and producing the materials of daily life. 

In this talk, science writer Philip Ball and artists Wenting Zhu and Yan Liang, will show you chemistry as it unfolds. Using such techniques as microphotography, time-lapse photography, and infrared thermal imaging, they will show us how chemistry underpins everything from the formation of snowflakes to the colours of flowers.

Their book, The Beauty of Chemistry: Art, Wonder and Science is available now from amazon and all good bookshops.

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About the speakers

Philip Ball is a freelance science writer. He worked previously at Nature for over 20 years, first as an editor for physical sciences (for which his brief extended from biochemistry to quantum physics and materials science) and then as a Consultant Editor. His writings on science for the popular press have covered topical issues ranging from cosmology to the future of molecular biology.

Wenting Zhu studied painting for about thirteen years before 2012, and graduated from the Academy of Arts & Design of Tsinghua University in 2016, majoring in Visual Communication Design. In 2016, Wenting Zhu was fortunate to become a scientific photographer of Beauty of Science, and be part of the wonderful stories they tell. She started making abstract graphics and intriguing structures by doing experiments. In 2016, the art project MINIGLOBELET was released, which explores the microscopic world. Wenting is always reminded to be a good observer. By introducing experiments and photography into her life, she started perceiving things she saw in new ways, which helps her find a new means of communicating and interacting with the world. In 2017, she devoted herself to Envisioning Chemistry, an online exhibition which blends chemistry and art, revealing the beauty of chemistry through special photography techniques. Envisioning Chemistry has been reported by multiple media around the world. She also participated in commercial projects. In 2018, she participated in an eight-episode documentary named Once Upon A Bite directed by famous Chinese director Xiaoqing Chen. She also created a video for Tiffany & Co.'s 2018 Blue Book Collection, which was displayed in Tiffany’s legendary NYC flagship windows.

Yan Liang is an associate professor at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) and the founder and producer of Beauty of Science. Liang got his BS and MS degrees in Chemistry from Tsinghua University in 2002 and 2005, and Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities in 2011.

In 2012, Liang worked at Digizyme as a scientific animator for E. O. Wilson’s Life on Earth, a revolutionary digital textbook for Apple’s iBooks platform. Later as a freelancer, he created scientific illustrations for researchers all over the world and his illustrations appeared on the covers of Science, Nature Materials, Nature Biotechnology, Nature Photonics, PNAS and other well-known scientific journals.

In 2014, as the author, photographer, and scientific visualization director, Liang led a small team to create Beautiful Chemistry. The project was positively received among the general public and influential media such as the Huffington Post, Discovery Channel’sDaily Planet, and This is Colossal. One video of chemical reactions also won an Expert's Choice award in 2014-2015 Vizzies Visualization Challenge organized by NSF and Popular Science magazine.


The live stream will go live at 6.55pm, and the introduction will begin at 7.00pm. If you register but miss the live stream, the video will be available to you via the same link for up to a week after the event date.

The Royal Institution is part of the Amazon Affiliate Programme and book links on this page are affiliate links, which means it won't cost you any extra but we may earn a small commission if you decide to purchase through the link. All procceeds help support the charitable work of the Ri. Affiliate disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate The Royal Institution earns from qualifying purchases.

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