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TO MAY 12 & AUG. 15

Sunscapes: Images of Our Magnetic Star

The two new exhibitions at the National Academy of Sciences may feature cutting-edge scientific images made by the latest hi-tech toys, but the aesthetics they exude are distinctly retro. In “Approaching Chaos: Visions From the Quantum Frontier,” Harvard University physicist and chemist Eric Heller presents computer-generated renderings of complex and chaotic physical processes, including wave motion and quantum dynamics (Exponential is pictured.) The result is a headache-inducing trip back to the busy Op Art stylings of Victor Vasarely and the trippy, airbrushed canvases of Peter Max. (Minimalist artist Sol LeWitt—a key Heller influence—even makes a surprise cameo.) Novices will find Heller’s scientific explanations hard to follow, so it’s unclear whether his hot pinks, fluorescent aquas, and ultraviolets are inherent in the processes he documents or whether they represent his own taste. Less pretentious and more fulfilling is “Sunscapes: Images of Our Magnetic Star,” in NAS’s Upstairs Gallery. These photographs of the sun, made by astronomical observatories and spacecraft, capture every inch of our star, from its dark sunspots, which look like minor imperfections on a grocery-store orange, to the wispy surface flares formed by magnetic fields. Here too, the images conjure up the ’60s: The most striking renderings—a half-dozen side-by-side multiples of the sun printed in bold, primary colors—transported me back to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, where one room is stocked entirely with Mao silkscreens. The shows are on view from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, to Sunday, May 12, and to Thursday, Aug. 15, respectively, at the National Academy of Sciences, 2100 C St. NW. Free. (202) 334-2436. (Louis Jacobson)