Artful Computing

Tuesday 14 February 2017

7.00pm refreshment followed by talk at 7.30pm

This event is open to the public and is free of charge. You do not need to book for the event, you can just turn up.

Room TC014, ‘Teaching Centre’ University of Gloucestershire, The Park Campus, Cheltenham, GL50 2RH

Michael McEllin CEng MBCS.


Connections between art and mathematics go back to the ancient Greeks, and in renaissance times artists were sometimes also architects and engineers, and engineers and architects were expected to have the aesthetic understanding of artists. In recent decades those with both mathematical and artistic inclinations have found that computers provided a new medium for exploring visual ideas. While commercial artists, graphic designers and virtual reality animators now regard computational tools as an essential part of their toolkits, I am more interested in the use of computational algorithms to construct abstract images - so called “generative art”. Here we can treat computation as an artistic medium on its own terms, capable of generating images that would be virtually impossible by any other means. My own career in computational physics inclines me toward images with a strong mathematical foundation, developing algorithms that sit on the visually interesting boundaries between order and chaos. However, I have also begun to appreciate that this type of exploration, which produces rapid visual rewards that immediately illustrate some of the basic principle of computation, can be a way of introducing programming to those who might otherwise have little motivation in this direction. Some of these ideas are explored in more depth on my 'Artful Computing' website.


Dr Michael McEllin graduated with 1st class honours in Natural Sciences at Cambridge, focusing on theoretical physics, and went on to do a PhD in Radio Astronomy at the Cavendish Laboratory. The subsequent 37 years were spend doing computational physics in the nuclear industry, where he was a main architect of reactor modelling software which is still considered business-critical for the UK commercial nuclear industry. As part of his professional development he acquired a masters degree in computing and subsequently developed a strong interest in supporting corporate knowledge retention via use of "wiki" software. In 2014 he received EDF Energy's "Innovation Award" in recognition of success in promoting knowledge management culture change.

He has also been a registered STEM ambassador for many years, and has been rewarded by seeing students he has mentored on various projects achieving far more than they thought possible, including flying in a plane constructed with their own hands and watching it participate in the flying display at the Farnborough International Airshow. He is currently mentoring on three science projects running in local schools. Now retired, he also spends his time walking, drawing and documenting his explorations in computational art via his own web site.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, a Fellow of the Institute of Physics, a Member of the British Computer Society and a past chair of the Cirencester Science and Technology Society.