Science Meets Art in Exhibition on How Street Murals Can Beat the Heat; Recommendations Result of Faculty/Student Research

May 9, 2019

Science meets art in “See the Heat,” a new exhibition now open at the Science Museum of Virginia. The exhibition was co-curated by University of Richmond senior Sarah Kwon, a biology major, and professor Eugene Maurakis, who teaches in the biology department and School of Professional & Continuing Studies. Maurakis also serves as chief scientist at the Science Museum.

Image of LadybugThe exhibition highlights Kwon and Maurakis’ research on the correlation between street murals and the urban heat island effect in Richmond, Virginia. They specifically investigated the impact of color on thermal (heat) absorption and reflection. For example, darker colors are able to absorb more light energy in the form of heat compared to lighter colors.

“An urban heat island refers to a city that is significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas due to human activity,” explains Kwon. “Our goals were to determine factors associated with thermal emittance from wall murals in Richmond and then to use this information to make recommendations for color and location of wall murals as an alternative and cost-friendly way to mitigate the effects of urban heat islands.”

“This exhibition is the perfect nexus of science and art,” said Maurakis. “We made observations of artworks, asked questions, collected and analyzed data, and then presented the results as art through the lens of science.”

From June 28 through July 19, 2018, the researchers used an infrared camera to measure the thermal emittance of 64 murals. They also collected 17 additional data points, including date, time, solar exposure duration, air temperature, and mural colors to determine which factors affect heat the most. A few of the most revealing factors were total daylight exposure of murals to sunlight and the percentage of dark colors used.

Kwon and Maurakis determined the ideal locations of mural art were walls facing North, Northeast, and Northwest where sun illuminance and thermal gain are the lowest.

“Such locations could accommodate the use of dark colors without significantly increasing the heat load in urban communities,” said Maurakis. “When planning a mural installation on walls facing South, Southeast, Southwest, and West, we recommend that artists use a light color palette with high reflective properties.”

The exhibition will be on view through Oct. 25, 2019.

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This research and exhibition project is supported by the Virginia Foundation of Independent Colleges through a research scholarship for Kwon, as well as the Science Museum of Virginia and the University of Richmond. To learn more about “See the Heat,” you can view this video: