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Students blend art and science in collaborative art show

Students creating artwork while sitting at tables, sculptures lined on shelves behind them.

Students craft sculptured art inspired by science research and high-resolution microscopy in a course titled Art and Science. ASU photo

August 30, 2023

A cohort of students from Arizona State University have collaborated on a work that blends art and science in seamless harmony. 

As part of a course titled Art and Science, students have an opportunity to work with faculty members in the School of Life Sciences and School of Art. The students attend and observe several research labs spaced throughout the semester, and then draw from those experiences as inspiration to make their own creations. 

Those results will be featured in an art show, “Sculpting Science,” which will celebrate its opening night on Thursday, Aug. 31. The exhibit will remain on display during normal gallery hours through Sept. 9, at the Step Gallery, Grant Street Studios in Phoenix.

“Art, science and education all intersect with each other; I think a lot of people forget that,” said Xitlallic Ortega-Perez, who graduated this year with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in ceramics and particpated in the course.

“All art mediums have a science to it; for ceramics, that can be what materials go into glaze and how they react to a clay body. There is definitely a way that science can benefit from art; we see it used in models seen in textbooks and also technology — and we can further technology with both fields.”

The course is offered every other year, in the spring semester. Susan Beiner, a professor in the School of Art and an internationally known ceramic artist, teaches the course in collaboration with science faculty members, including Robby Roberson, an associate professor in the School of Life Sciences.

Roberson's interests include polarized growth in eukaryotic cells — specifically fungal hyphae — and his research focuses on elucidating aspects of cytoplasmic structure and motility. His research group has contributed to the discovery of unique mechanisms of cell growth in certain groups of fungi that have resulted in a wider understanding of cell diversity and fungal evolution. 

“The ability to share a creative and intellectual space alongside both art and science students was a wonderful opportunity,” said course particpant Nadia Lakovich, who also recently graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in ceramics.

“I didn’t quite realize the art bubble I had put myself in (only staying on one side of campus). It was pleasant to be able to hear perspectives from those of different focuses, and I hope to be able to do it more in the future.”

The Art and Science course is open to undergraduates and graduate students of any major, and the 2023 cohort is a fairly even mix of science and art students — the highest percentage of science majors the course has seen to date. 

“I had heard of this course before I even started graduate school, and I knew I wanted to take it if at all possible,” said Savannah Tallino, who is pursuing a Doctorate of Philosophy in neuroscience.

“I loved learning how much science — particularly chemistry — underlies the process of creating a ceramic piece and its glazes. It is a challenging medium, however, and the short timeline of the course made the execution of multiple projects a true test of time management.”

One assignment in particular invites students to select and submit an object to be viewed under an electron microscope. The extreme magnification and hyper-resolution of the microscope results in images of extraordinary texture and detail. 

A variety of subjects were submitted for microscopy imaging — dried rose petals from a wedding bouquet, a scrap of fabric from a childhood toy, a seashell fragment found on the beach, a shark’s tooth, a butterfly wing, a spider leg, even an Altoids mint.

“My idea to use baker’s yeast came when I was making pasta,” said participant Pranav Chhaliyil, who graduated in May 2023 with a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences and communication, and a minor in project management.

“I found the flaky texture quite interesting and thought I could incorporate it into my work. It was a bit challenging because sometimes the subtlety may not always show up after firing. Therefore, I had to increase the intensity of the texture in order to achieve the texture I was looking for, which took trial and error."

“My mother always tells me that no matter how far I pursue science, it’s important for me to stay connected to my artistic background,” Chhaliyil said. 

“Art can serve as something to create balance in life, especially for those studying science. As a biological sciences major, I try to study during the week and spend my weekends either creating art at home or viewing it at the various galleries and museums in the area.” 

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