Growing up, I had trouble understanding scientific concepts because expthe anations lacked a visual component. However, painting and animation helped me understand topics like microorganisms and molecular reactions. Art can be a powerful medium for communicating the intricate details embedded in research, but people often fail to understand how science and art can complement each other.
Science. Art. Miracle (SAW) is an Atlanta-based organization that brings together student artists and researchers from Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology to present research projects through visual media. Student artists participate in semester-long collaborations with fellow researchers, and SAW presents their work in a gallery at the end of each semester. The program hosted the latest exhibition at the Emory Student Center on April 18, where student artists guided viewers through their art and research.
Cassandra Askins (26C), a political science and art history major, researches the symbiotic relationship between different types of bacteria and bugs. Her painting depicts two bugs, one in a garden and one in a lab, and the different bacteria inside them. Yellow and purple colors distinguish the bugs, and their internal compositions contain microorganisms of different sizes.
“Making science more accessible through art is very interesting because it allows niche topics like the digestive system of bugs to be widely known to the public that wouldn’t happen otherwise,” Askins said.
Custer Liu (26C), a neuroscience and behavioral biology major with a passion for making art, is working on a project with Timothy Sampson, an assistant professor in the Department of Cell Biology at Emory School of Medicine. Liu’s digital artwork depicts the struggles of a scientist in their lab as they work their way through formulating papers and discoveries. This part is a look at the research from Liu’s perspective. It shows a scientist looking at their desk, isolated in the lab, their life’s work in the background.
“I continue my discussion with everyone [principal investigators] I know they are all excited to visualize their research because especially their research is their life, and to visualize as a presenter is from a new perspective,” Liu said.
Liu explained why it is important that art and science complement each other.
“Visual art combined with research is a way to attract people and get people into the field to see another perspective of research,” Liu said. “It’s not just boring and standing in the lab. It’s also super interesting, super amazing and impressive.”
Manvi Jain (26C), a psychology major with a lifelong drawing practice, is collaborating with an Emory scientist studying mRNA, a single-stranded molecule that facilitates protein synthesis. Specifically, she looked at how translation could be a possible therapeutic target for ribosomal salvage pathways. Jane’s picture shows how mRNAs lose damage and translation if they don’t have access to bacterial salvage pathways, and her use of multiple colors, from yellow to purple, one for each stage of mRNA decay, depicts this distinction.
Reflecting on her interactions with the researchers, Jane said she especially appreciated the time the researchers took to ensure her “representation of their research was scientifically accurate.”
“Even for the more abstract concepts, they were very helpful in picking out details, even things like color schemes that actually accurately represent what certain types of ribosomes or molecules might look like when you look at them through a microscope,” Jain said.
Jane believes that SAW is breaking down barriers in science communication.
“It’s really nice that we’ve been able to explore more abstract concepts as well, rather than something that’s necessarily stereotypically associated with maybe a diagram,” Jane said.
The combination of science and art is an increasingly important approach to education. As the organization continues to provide new opportunities for students, they enable the broader public at Emory and Georgia Tech to visually understand the complex functions of molecules and biomachines. However, research is not limited to the hard sciences. SAW seeks to incorporate other disciplines such as political science into its future art displays. With the program allowing students to expand their artistic minds to scientific fields, SAW encourages such interdisciplinary works through its activities.
Yashonandan Kakrania (he/him) (26C) is from Kolkata, India, majoring in Business and Film and Media. Kakrania previously worked as a professional freelance photographer and video editor. He started initiatives aimed at environmental protection and peer learning. He is a die-hard Bollywood fan and loves to play tennis.