ChemistryComicFoodphysicsVisual Art

Afternoon Snack 10.5.12

For this week’s snack, more food as art, this time thanks to an MRI machine and the team at Alinea.

Andy Ellison, a MRI technologist at Boston University Medical School, has made a name for himself by imaging fruits and vegetables in his Philips 3 Tesla MRI and making GIFs from the resulting scans. MRI machines rely on tomography, the technique of capturing images in slices. (If you’ve read Flatland, think of how the inhabitants of Flatland viewed their 3-dimensional visitor–it’s pretty much like that.) When the slices are shown in sequence, the resulting images appear as beautiful, twinkling animations. Some of my favorites:

Broccoli (looks like a reverse firework)


Cucumber (looks like buzzing flies)

Grapes (like pebbles or fairy lights)

See more on Andy’s blog Inside Insides.


Speaking of food as art: there is a restaurant in Chicago called Alinea that was one of the popularizes of what is known as molecular gastronomy. From Wikipedia, “Molecular gastronomy is a subdiscipline of food science that seeks to investigate, explain and make practical use of the physical and chemical transformations of ingredients that occur while cooking, as well as the social, artistic and technical components of culinary and gastronomic phenomena in general.” One of the things this means in practical terms is that chefs and scientists who practice this discipline end up presenting familiar flavors or foods in unfamiliar ways. For example, the olive oil powder I blogged about back in March is based on a technique Alinea uses for making a dry caramel powder. Familiar flavor, unfamiliar texture. Foams, transparencies, gels…all ways to make you experience what you’re eating in new ways.

Just look at this PB&J:


I remember when I first learned about Alinea and thinking that if I ever got to go there, it would be less of a dining experience and more like visiting an art gallery where the medium was food and you experienced the art with your nose and mouth, in addition to your eyes.

Chicago cartoonist Lucy Knisley wrote an excellent comic about her visit in 2008 (art about food art!)–the featured image for this post was taken from one of the panels. I also recommend Alinea At Home if you’re curious about some of this dishes are constructed (and specifically, how they can be recreated by home cooks).

What do you think? Is this food? Is this art? Does it exist on a different level than a well-prepared and plated but otherwise normal meal?


Anne S

Anne Sauer is an atheist with an appetite for science, good food, and making connections between the two. She is currently pursuing her MBA in Sustainable Management at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. Her favorite foods are salted caramel ice cream and chicken tikka masala. You can find her on twitter @aynsavoy.

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  1. I just realized I forgot to label the very first image…but it might be more fun this way. Who can guess what the first MRI image is?

  2. It HAS to be a pommegranade!

    btw, taking a low-dose X-ray image on half an apple also makes wonderful images.

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