Science & Research

Science-inspired art displayed with research

By
Contributing Writer

Twelve students displayed artwork celebrating the human form, insects, space and other scientific subjects in an exhibit entitled “The Art of Biology” Wednesday in Andrews Dining Hall. The exhibit was presented alongside 59 research posters during the annual poster day for undergraduate research in the biological sciences. The pieces included paintings, drawings, photographs and jewelry – all influenced by biological themes. 

Beverly Skillings, program coordinator for the Office of Biology Undergraduate Affairs and the exhibit’s organizer, called the student work “absolutely exquisite.” She said she is always impressed with the imagination of the projects, saying that “they tell me a lot about the artist and who the student is.” 

In past years, exhibits have varied from skeletons to interactive websites. Though most students presenting artwork are biology or human biology concentrators, she said, some artwork has been contributed by students concentrating in other fields who were inspired by biological images. While some students are long-time artists, others have had far less experience. “Most Brown students are artistic, and half of them don’t even know it,” Skillings said.

Riwaj Thapaliya ’15 was one featured artist with more of a background in biological science than art. His submission, a picture of his chromosomes with a hand-painted background, was based on his coursework in BIOL 0150A: “Techniques and Analyses using DNA-Based Biotechnology” with Jody Hall, undergraduate laboratories manager. As part of the course, students extract their own chromosomes from blood samples and visualize them using an electron microscope.

When Thapaliya received an image of his sample, the ends of his chromosomes were particularly visible. The office of Associate Dean of Biological Sciences Marjorie Thompson ’74 PhD’79 P’02 P’07 P’09 P’12 P’14 later contacted him, he said, and encouraged him to submit the picture to the exhibit. Thapaliya, a prospective biology concentrator, said this was his first time submitting artwork to an exhibit. 

In contrast, Alexa Minc ’14, a Brown/Rhode Island School of Design Dual Degree Program student, said she began college interested in biological sciences but also wanted to continue studying art. At Brown, she is concentrating in human biology with a brain and behavior focus, while at RISD she is majoring in jewelry and metalsmithing. Almost all of her work, she said, is inspired by her coursework at Brown.

Minc contributed photographs of jewelry that she made, including a locket meant to represent the soul that incorporated rodent brain structures. All of her work was hand-forged, which “took ages,” Minc said. She named NEUR 1670: “Neuropharmacology and Synaptic Transmission,” BIOL 0500: “Cell and Molecular Biology” and NEUR 1650: “Biology of Hearing” as courses that particularly influenced her artwork. “A lot of biology is art,” Minc said. The two subjects are “not as separate as most people think.”

Katya Potkin ’13 has explored biology and art during much of her time at Brown. She entered as a prospective visual arts concentrator, then considered double-concentrating with human biology and finally dropped visual arts to further pursue human biology. But she said she still takes art classes whenever she can. She has taken drawing and painting classes and plans to take an anatomical drawing class at RISD next year.

Potkin particularly likes drawing “people, muscles and bones” and has visited the cadaver lab at the Alpert Medical School in the past. While she was very involved in art in high school, it was only after she came to college that her artwork became more scientific, she said. Potkin is “very much fascinated by human form,” and said she continues to create biologically-influenced art because “it’s not enough to study how systems work – I want to represent the beauty behind them.”  

Also in attendance was Professor of Biology Ken Miller ’70 P’02, who said the fields of biology and art “complement brilliantly.”

“At its best,” Miller said, “science is a kind of art that expresses how we perceive nature.”