Science, Art and the 2012 Olympic Games

The 2012 Olympic Games is almost upon us and this summer the UK with be awash with sporting fever as people run, jump, throw and swim their way to bronze, silver and gold. London 2012 is concentrating heavily on the concept of legacy, from the original bid to recent sporting news the impact the games will have on long-term health, activity levels and equality have taken centre stage (the potential for the Olympics to have long-term health benefits is discussed further here if you’re interested).

But what about other impacts? Aside from a potential increase in seedier London activities (as the BBC reported here), what will the impact be on London and the UK in terms of culture? After all, the early Olympic games were not only sporting events but also important culturally, shrines and temples were built amongst the sporting facilities to create a site of “unique natural and mystical beauty” (source).

In keeping with this tradition, a range of Olympic-inspired exhibitions have been popping up all over the country since the start of 2012. In Oxford an exhibition entitled The Art of Sport paired artists and Team GB athletes to produce paintings, sculptures and other art works which were displayed throughout March and April. Many more events that cross boundaries between science, culture and art are now occurring…

If you’re in London for the games the Hunterian Museum has collaborated with the Medical Artists’ Association of Great Britian to explores the physiology of Olympic athletes. As one would expect from a medical museum ‘Anatomy of an Athlete’ focuses on sports medicine, surgery, prosthetics and training. More than just a medical textbook, however, the exhibition has employed a wide range of artistic techniques; for more details the Culture Lab review is here.

If you haven’t had your fill of anatomy head to the Queen’s Gallery for ‘Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist’. The latest display of da Vinci’s work, focuses on his collection of drawings that helped revolutionise the field of anatomical art. More than artistic imaginings, da Vinci’s work is based on his experience in hospitals and dissecting rooms.

Want something different from bone and muscle? Visit the Royal Opera House for an inspiring free exhibition of Olympic glory. The history of ancient Games is covered alongside modern Olympians and their stories. The Opera House exhibition is part of the London 2012 Festival which has events occurring all around the country for those of you not in London.

The cultural impact doesn’t stop once you’re within the Olympic Park either. The multi-million pound Anish Kapoor sculpture, ArcelorMittal Orbit, which provides an iconic landmark for the Games, is a mix of art, maths and engineering whilst the Velodrome has been shortlisted for the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Stirling Prize.

Science education is also set to benefit from the Olympics. The 2012 Games along with GlaxoSmithKline has organised a series of events under the banner ‘Scientists in Sport’. There’s material for teachers and events for students, more information can be found here. AAAS (the people behind the journal Science) have also joined in, creating free online content discussing the role of science and technological innovation in sporting achievement – see more here.


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