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ASU biologists bring science to downtown Phoenix First Friday Art Walk

Grad students create showcase featuring professors, postdocs, students

Man with hat views a selection of macro photography works at science-inspired art show in Phoenix.

The free exhibit opened April 21 and runs through May 13 at Modified Arts gallery in Phoenix. The show features art made by biologists at a range of stages in their careers at ASU and the University of Arizona. Photo by Samantha Neal/ASU School of Life Sciences

May 03, 2023

The beauty and wonder of nature has inspired scientists, artists and storytellers alike. 

This month, two graduate students in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University have brought that inspiration to life in a new exhibit of art inspired by nature and biological research — just in time for the downtown Phoenix First Friday Art Walk this weekend.

“I remember in undergraduate courses in comparative anatomy when you had to draw things, if you really took the time to do it, it made it so much easier later to recall the structures, and I’ve always seen art and biology having that connection,” said Tyler Murdock, who proposed the idea of a gallery exhibit to classmate Meredith Johnson after seeing her illustrative work on Instagram. 

“I’m a very visual person and so much of biology seems to me to be visual, whether you’re identifying species or anatomical structures. And having an eye for that and having an eye to create perspective in a drawing are not so different,” he said.

PhD candidates Murdock and Johnson, who are both a part of the Social Insect Research Group at ASU, co-founded the event. Johnson studies insect physiology, and Murdock studies chemical communication in ants. As they reached out to friends and colleagues, they were pleasantly surprised at how many fellow scientists created art for their own enjoyment as a hobby alongside their research careers. 

The show is titled “The Things We Did Not Measure: Art Inspired by Biological Research.” 

“It’s because so often we are so focused on the things we can turn into a scientific product, but what brought us into biology is that we are fascinated by these aesthetically appealing and really interesting, fascinating creatures,” said Murdock about the reason for choosing the title and theme of the exhibit. 

“Art is an outlet for making a sort of homage to that side of it — to capture the side of it that you can’t measure and turn into a graph, but you can show it in art,” he said. 

The free exhibit opened April 21 and can be viewed until May 13 at Modified Arts gallery in Phoenix. 

The show features art made by biologists at a range of stages in their careers at ASU and the University of Arizona — established professors, postdoctoral researchers, graduate students and even undergraduate students stating their first research projects in the lab. 

The pieces themselves are no less diverse, showing works in a variety of mediums, styles and subjects. Detailed leatherwork, metal sculptures of larvae and casts of insect nests make for striking 3D displays and stand alongside peaceful watercolor landscapes, intricate pen and ink illustrations and stunning macro photography. 

Many of the artists will be at the gallery during the upcoming First Friday Art Walk, a free, all-ages monthly signature attraction in downtown Phoenix that showcases the city’s vibrant urban art community. Thousands of attendees to enjoy more than 70 galleries, venues and art-related spaces, as well as vendors, musicians, bars, restaurants and food trucks. 

Featured artists: 

• Tyler Bohmer. 

• Stephen Buchmann.

• Bert Hölldobler.

• Meredith Johnson. 

• Juergen Liebig.

• Tyler Murdock.

• Deryc Painter.

• Craig Perl.

• Matt Prebus.

• Mason Salem.

• Sebastian Scofield.

• Laura Steger.

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