Artist-Scientists That You Should Know About

Last week I posted about science and art, and how, in my opinion, creativity is something that is inherent to the success of both of these fields. Today I’m posting a few examples of scientists that are also artists – going some way to demonstrate my points from that blog post whilst showcasing some of the wonderful artist-scientists that I know of.

Christine Liu / Two Photon Art

Credit: Two Photon

Christine is a PhD candidate in Neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, where she researches the relationship between nicotine and the brain’s dopamine system. In her spare time she is one half of science/art mega-force, Two Photon Art. Two Photon have been going for a few years now, making zines, enamel pin badges, fabric patches and more. Christine’s passion and drive for equity, diversity and inclusion in the sciences, and in STEM more widely, is nothing short of inspirational. Her art reflects her passion – many of Two Photon’s products contribute a percentage of profits to initiatives such as Girls Who Code, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and West Oakland Punks with Lunch.

Jen Ma

Credit: Jen Ma

Jen is currently completing her PhD in Dr. Peter Zandstra’s Stem Cell Bioengineering Lab at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on developing a novel platform for rapid enumeration of rare blood stem cells based on their unique genetic markers. I’ve followed Jen’s work on Instagram for months, particularly through the STEAMotype lettering challenge that she founded to infuse the worlds of calligraphy and hand-lettering with science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, and I was lucky enough to meet her when I was in Toronto recently. We had a brilliant conversation about how art can help scientists to reach members of the public that are less likely to seek out science in their every day lives, and I’m super excited to see where her career goes over the coming years.

Lauren Hewitt

Credit: Lauren Hewitt

I found Lauren through a post on Christine Liu’s Twitter; The Two Photon team took their products to the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting earlier this year, and Lauren made a guest appearance alongside them. Lauren is completing her PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, where she’s working in Dr Darrin Brager and Dr Dan Johnston’s lab to investigate the physiological properties of inhibitory interneurons in the stratum oriens of the hippocampus. Her Instagram bio claims she’s a ‘novice embroiderer’ but her designs look pretty professional to me!

Lily Clarke / Lily in Space Designs

Credit: Lily Clarke

I found Lily through a Facebook group for small business owners that I’m part of, then saw her pop up on the In Colourful Company Instagram page and knew I had to find out more about her work. Lily is a Physicist, Illustrator, and lover of woodland creatures – and her artwork is too adorable for words. I’d love to work on a collaboration between Lily in Space Designs and Science On A Postcard this year, and we have discussed it before, so hopefully we can make it happen in 2019 🙂

Nina Chhita / Nina Draws Scientists

Credit: Nina Chhita

You might recognise Nina’s work from Science On A Postcard products that I’ve mentioned on this blog previously – Nina was the first artist that we collaborated with! She illustrated 3 wonderful women in science (Mae Jemison, Rita Levi-Montalcini, and Gertrude Ellon) to go alongside quotes that we picked out to produce a set of 5 ‘Women in Science’ postcards. By day Nina is a Medical Writer, but she’s consistently working to raise the profile of women in science through illustrations that she showcases on her Instagram and Twitter pages. I’m looking forward to find out about more inspirational women as Nina continues to draw!

Rachel Blair / Rachel Blair Ink

Credit: Rachel Blair

Rachel is another wonderful scientist and artist that I’ve met recently – I’ve been a fan of her work for years so I had a bit of a fan girl moment meeting her whilst I was in New York last week! Anyway, Rachel is a freelancer working largely as a Medical Writer as well as growing the Rachel Blair Ink brand along side that. Her background is in Biology and Epidemiology, and lots of her work has been around infectious disease and vaccinations, which makes her perspective as both a scientist, illustrator and patient, super interesting. She’s passionate about fostering science literacy in the public, and encouraging women to pursue careers in science and technology.

Know of other scientists that are also working on creative projects in their spare time (or maybe that’s you!)? Leave a comment below and share links to their work so that I can continue spending my money with wonderful independent creatives.

I couldn’t write this blog post without mentioning another artist. Oliver Dean is not scientist, he’s an illustrator of science – so I’ve included him as an honorable mention.
Oliver is a freelance illustrator and designer based in the UK, he works with STEM researchers and educators (and others, but his STEM-related work is incredible) to “enhance the position of those I work with so that they may engage and inspire more people, break down barriers and challenge thinking through new ways of communication.”

Oliver Dean
Big CartelInstagramTwitterWebsite

Credit: Oliver Dean

Trip Update – 2 Weeks Down, 5 to Go!

The last two weeks had passed more quickly than 14 days has ever passed in my life. On January 5th I started my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship adventures in Toronto, Canada, I then headed to New York City, and now I’m in Manchester, New Hampshire – I figure it’s time for an update.

‘This is Paradise’ mural on the side of Cameron House, Toronto

Toronto was the perfect point for me to kick off my Fellowship adventures – the science communication community welcomed me with open arms and I had some of the most intellectually stimulating conversations I’ve had in a while. It was like someone had taken the top off my head, added in approximately 5 million new ideas, put the top back on my head, and then gone, ‘well have a think about that then!’.
It was wonderful, and provided lots of new layers to the Fellowship that I did not expect – important conversations around the culture the scientists are working in within both academia and industry, how gender may or may not impact on the way that we are doing science communication as a wider community, and how we can improve opportunities for inclusion of all communities (LGBTQIA+, first nations, people of colour, people living with cognitive, developmental, intellectual, mental, physical, and/or sensory impairments) to get involved in the communication of science that is important to them (both as individuals and as members of various groups within society).
Perhaps naively, I didn’t think that asking to speak to people about science communication would bring up this melting pot of political and societal issues, but I’m really glad it did. I left feeling acutely aware of my privilege as a straight white cis woman, but not in a guilty way; the people I met and the conversations that I had were hopeful and passionate, and rather than feeling guilty for the privileged life I have had, I felt empowered to educate myself on issues that have not impacted me, and excited to be part of a community of people that are working to change things for everyone, for the better.

New York
Oak Bridge, Central Park, New York

After my time in Toronto was up, I headed to New York. I’ve been to New York lots before – my parents got married there when I was 11, I worked just over the border at a camp in Pennsylvania during my first summer of University, and I did an internship in Princeton before I went back to University for my final year. It’s a place I love and have loved for a really, really long time. It sounds so cheesy, but I feel at home in New York, and this part of the trip was just as important to me personally professionally.
I decided to take my first 2 days in New York off as fun days – my days in Toronto were packed and I needed some downtime. Those 2 days were brilliant; I spent time with one of my favourite humans on the planet, my friend Lacy, who I first met during that summer at camp I mentioned earlier, and have since met up with in various places around the world. I also spent time with Daniel Whibley (you may know him as Dr Daniel Whibley) which was soooo bloody brilliant and absolutely what I needed after a hectic week. We wandered around Central Park, saw more dogs than I could count (most had coats on and some even had shoes on!), ate delicious doughnuts and discovered the taste sensation of pumpkin bread French toast.
Unfortunately I also got sick whilst I was in New York. I only managed to fit in one meeting before I retreated to my hotel bed for 3 days. Not ideal, but the people that I was scheduled to meet have agreed to Skype/FaceTime etc whilst I’m in different cities so that’s good.

New Hampshire

And now I’m in New Hampshire. I arrived late yesterday afternoon and went straight from the airport to the hotel so that I could crawl into bed in an attempt to sleep off my lurgy. I managed to sleep for 14 hours, yes, 14 hours, and now I’m feeling much more human, which is a relief. Today has been used for catching up with life admin, writing, emails etc, and tomorrow I’m heading to a nearby science centre to see how they communicate science and scientific concepts to various audiences. I’m only here until Tuesday morning before my trip to Washington DC, so I’m kind of using this time as a working retreat – getting organised before a week of meetings and science events in the capital!

It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been officially on my Fellowship adventures talking creative science communication for a fortnight but I am so excited for the rest of my trip. Washington DC is set to be a whirlwind of a week, and then I’ll be back in the UK for about 12 hours before I fly to Berlin.

Do you have a passion project that you’d like to learn more about from experts around the world? Applications for Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowships open again in May, but you can register for alerts now.

Science and Art – a Natural Partnership or Two Very Different Fields?

In my last post I explained the main aims that I have for the Fellowship that I am currently on; if you missed that, then in basic terms I want to explore how science and art can come together to improve the way that members of the public engage with science.

Since that post I’ve had lots of conversations with wonderful scientists, researchers, science communicators, and members of the public (Canadians are probably the friendliest people in the world, but Canadians in coffee shops are a whole new level of friendly), about the relationship between science and art, so I wanted to try to capture some of those thoughts in a blog post. Mainly I’m writing this as a way to keep track of my own thoughts around this topic, but I’m also interested in hearing your thoughts to – leave a comment below or send me a Tweet if you’d like to join the conversation!

My initial thoughts about the potential relationship between the fields of science and art started a really long time ago. In my early teenage years I wanted to be a graphic designer, I had dreams of setting up my own business, just like my Dad had, and spending my days steeped in creativity. After a couple of years that no longer sounded like a viable career for me; I did a GCSE in Art & Design and got a grade A, but even the process of doing a GSCE in the subject felt like too much pressure for me. I loved being creative, but being creative under pressure (in this case exam conditions) was not something I enjoyed at all – the pressure made me feel claustrophobic and my usually creative brain was suddenly unable to think as usual.
That realisation was a tricky one; I clearly wasn’t cut out to be a working designer where the pressure was not exam conditions, but bill paying and you know, life. I thought about other careers including law, medicine and surgery, my grades were decent and the options presented to me by careers advisors at school were a reflection of that. None of those really interested me and it took me a few months of trawling through university prospectuses to find the course I wanted to do – Pharmacology (the science of how drugs act on the body). I still wasn’t sure where I’d go career-wise, but I figured getting a science degree would give me some options, and I liked the sound of the topics that would be covered in the Pharmacology degree program at the University of Aberdeen.

During the years of my undergraduate degree I didn’t do much art, I made jewellery sometimes but I didn’t feel like I was being creative very often at all. Now when I look back, I was being creative all of the time; but I’d been taught throughout years of education that creativity meant activities like drawing and painting. I was writing all of the time, I read daily, and I was solving problems in almost every aspect of my degree – all tasks that require creative input. I was being creative, just not ‘traditionally’ so.

It’s not just me that has thought this way. Towards the end of last year I took part in the ‘I’m A Scientist‘ online event with school children across the UK. Lots of them were asking questions about careers, what our favourite subjects were at school and whether that linked in with what we were doing now. My favourite subject was Art & Design, and it took those kids asking questions of me to realise that I use creative skills every single day in my job. To me, science is inherently creative, I just hadn’t realised it because my teachers always presented science and art as opposing fields; you were good at one or the other, not both.

I guess this sort of thought process came from the myth of the left brain/right brain.

Image credit: Maggie Wince ‘Left Brain / Right Brain’

From a blog post written by Robert H Shmerling MD from Harvard Health Publishing:

“Those who are right-brained are supposed to be intuitive and creative free thinkers. They are “qualitative,” big-picture thinkers who experience the world in terms that are descriptive or subjective. For example, “The skies are gray and menacing; I wonder if it’s going to rain?”
Meanwhile, left-brained people tend to be more quantitative and analytical. They pay attention to details and are ruled by logic. Their view of the weather is more likely, “The forecast said there was only a 30% chance of rain but those cumulonimbus clouds will probably bring thunder as well as rain.””

I’m not going to go into the depths of scientific research that discount this thought process, instead I want this blog post to be a way for scientists to be reminded that they are creative people, and for younger readers to understand that it’s absolutely fine (and actually very helpful) to think creatively in the world of science.

Note: If you are interested in learning about the science behind this left brain/right brain idea, I saw that Samantha Yammine (you may know her as Science Sam) plans to cover this on her Instagram over the coming weeks. Follow her here and keep an eye an her Instagram stories and feed.

The reason why I’m passionate about exploring how art can be used to engage the public with science is because of these experiences; I never thought I would be a scientist because I thought that I was a ‘creative’ person; someone expressive and emotional (ask my boyfriend, I can be pretty dramatic if I’m hungry/too cold/too hot). I am expressive and emotional, and I’m a scientist too; I think that those qualities make me a better scientist. Lots of the conversations that I have had over the past week have included scientists echoing that sentiment. Infusing science with creativity means that conversations about science, and scientific issues, are encouraged within and between groups of society outside those that they may reach with traditional forms of science communication. It’s no use trying to have a conversation about a scientific issue that could impact on everyone, if there are huge sections of society not being invited into that conversation. I believe that creativity is one way to ensure we’re at least inviting every part of society to that discussion.

What do you think; if you’re a scientist, would you describe yourself as creative? If you’re not a scientist, then what do you think of this idea of sparking conversations about science with creative practices?

More information on the idea of science and art working together can be found by clicking the links below:

Artists and Scientists: More Alike Than Different
Why Art and Science are More Closely Related Than You Think
Art for Science – Science Communication Through Art
Why Researchers Should Use Art to Talk Science
Scientists are More Creative Than You Might Imagine
Exploding the Myth of the Scientific vs Artistic Mind