Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland 20771


Monday, February 12, 2007 / 3:30 PM, Building 3 Auditorium

Bulent Atalay

"Math and the Mona Lisa"

ABSTRACT -- Leonardo da Vinci produced the two most famous paintings in all of history. One, The Last Supper, inspired the recent best seller, The Da Vinci Code. The other, the Mona Lisa, the portrait of the wife of a Florentine merchant, has inspired endless curious theories seeking to explain her enigmatic smile. In his approach to the painting, Professor Bulent Atalay seeks the consilience of science and art—painting, architecture, sculpture, music, mathematics, physics, biology, astronomy, and engineering—by employing 'Leonardo's model,' a scheme he identifies as the modus operandi of Leonardo.

Atalay presents science through art, and art through science, and approaches the larger goal of achieving a synthesis of the two fields. The qualities of timelessness and universality in Leonardo's miraculous works speak eloquently for themselves. With Leonardo's model providing the unifying thread, however, it becomes possible, first, to glimpse Leonardo's restless intellect, that extraordinary psyche; second, to see whence the ideas for his works of art came; and ultimately to appreciate his art at a different level. What also emerges is a timeless message: Leonardo's model can assist in bridging the cultural divide prevailing in our age of specialization, and it can help make us all more creative.

SPEAKER -- Bulent Atalay received an early classical education in England and the United States, attending Eton (UK) and St. Andrew's School (Delaware). He went into physics by accident when a secretary in the college admissions office misread his career aspirations as "physicist" instead of "physician," but he found he had latent interests in physics. His professional training — BS, MS, MA, Ph.D. and post-doctoral work in theoretical physics — took place at Georgetown, UC-Berkeley, Princeton and Oxford.

Now, he is a professor of physics at the University of Mary Washington, an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia, and a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. An accomplished artist, Atalay has presented his works in one-man exhibitions in London and Washington, and his two books of lithographs — Lands of Washington and Oxford and the English Countryside — can be found in the permanent collections of Buckingham Palace, the Smithsonian, and the White House. Just two years after the release of Math and the Mona Lisa (MML) by Smithsonian Books in April 2004, the book had already appeared in four languages, with another five foreign language editions pending. Atalay is currently working on a second book in the same genre as MML.

Next Week: No Colloquium, Presidents' Day Holiday
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