Merging Science with Art

I am a molecular biologist. I study very tiny things to learn more about diseases like cancer so we can be closer to a cure. In reality, my day-to-day duties consist mainly of moving small amounts of liquid from one tube to another. I met a lot of other quilters who also stemmed from the sciences. I suppose the joy in doing repetitive tasks in research draw the same types of people to quilting.

But the idea of merging science and art is not just for those who get giddy over DNA sequence and electron microscopy. I think there is a real art and beauty to the science we perform. Many of the patterns in the natural world could lend themselves to some striking and modern art. Here are some examples of the work that I have done:

Mitosis Cross-stitch showing the steps of cell division.
“I do Science…Periodically” patchwork quilt with color coding of the different regions of the periodic table.
A cross-stitch of cells as they transition through mitosis (work in progress). Quilts: I do Science Periodically. Viral sequence. Sequence alignment.
Scale patchwork representation of the capsule synthesis production (cps) locus from several strains of the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae.

Benefits of integrating art with science

  1. When you create you allow yourself a lot of time to ruminate on the subject. For example, when making a periodic table quilt I connected the idea of the number of electrons for a specific orbital corresponds to the number of columns in that orbital – i.e. There are 10 d orbital electrons and there are 10 columns for the transition metals. I knew that before, but I actively thought about it as I was piecing the fabrics together.
  2. You engage different areas of the brain then if you were only writing. This will enhance long-term retention of the material
  3. The art piece will interest more people than a PowerPoint presentation of the same material
  4. Capture the interest of creative-minded individuals and challenge the minds of the more linear thinkers.

Examples of activities that merge science and art

  1. Alternative visual aids for presentations. Instead of a PowerPoint presentation students are encouraged to draw or paint a picture
  2. When studying you could write a song, poem or dance about the material to help you remember it. For example, Stanford University made a dance of protein synthesis that is hard to forget.
  3. Make a poster for a public service/public safety announcement concerning health or the environment. For example, before summer use graphic design to create a poster that informs the public about how to stay safe at the public pool.
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