Saturday, August 10, 2013

from Mike Reese in CER:

 Dr. Ahna Skop is a biology faculty at U of Wisconsin – Madison who was raised by parents who were accomplished artists. 

 She gave a conference presentation titled, “Too Creative for Scientist.”  I thought the presentation was relevant to the conversation you are leading about how to bring together scientists and humanists together for new projects.  She talks about how her arts training from her parents informed her growth and work as a scientist.  She describes how she uses her scientific research to inform her work as a visual artist as well.  A cool example is at 34:40 minutes she describes art exhibits she has curated of visual materials that originated from scientific research. Several of these have been covered in Science.

article from SCIENCE magazine

<figcaption> Credit: Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison</figcaption>
Credit: Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison

Ahna Skop

Scientist: Age 36, 9 publications, cited over 400 times (ISI Web of Science).
Artist: Curated 7 exhibits; created 100-200 digital and ceramic pieces and spends 5-10 hours per month on art.
As an undergraduate at Syracuse University, cellular biologist Ahna Skop, found herself questioning her place in science as she juggled courses in science and art. Skop, the daughter of two artists, says as she worked in the confines of the sterile lab walls running RNA gel samples, she felt something was missing. "I loved what I was doing, but I wasn't turned on. The gels weren't living," Skop says. She started thinking "there has to be more to science than this."
Her junior year, she enrolled in a developmental biology course. The first textbook picture she saw of microtubules in a Caenorhabditis elegans embryo lit up with GFP, left Skop awestruck. She circled the photo like a school girl doodling in a yearbook. "I thought it was the coolest thing ever. It was so visually appealing," Skop says. That image and the possibility of exploring science through images like it seduced Skop and helped direct her attention to a career in developmental cellular biology.
Skop now focuses on understanding the mechanisms behind asymmetric division in C. elegans by investigating membrane-cytoskeleton connections at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In 2006, she received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. She continues to draw creative inspiration from her research through visual art, applying vibrant colors to black-and-white microscope images and designing logos for scientific meetings. Every time Skop looks through the microscope, "I feel both creative processes at work," she says.
Here's how having another skill helps your science:
Stand out from the crowd

Demonstrating your talent away from the bench can help you gain prominence as a scientist, Skop says. While showing her work at an exhibit at the UW-Madison, a scientist approached her and told her she was wasting her time by spending it on art. "Being raised by artists, I was used to being made fun of," I didn't care, she says.
And she wasn't wasting her time, it turns out. Years later, when interviewing for faculty positions in science, Skop's art helped her get noticed. At interviews, people kept introducing Skop as 'the girl who does the science art ... who also does good science,'" Skop says. "In this business where you are trying to be different, [being 'the girl who did art'] paid off for me," Skop says.
Discover through an artist's lens
Skop says training in the visual arts has helped her see patterns in the organization and movement within the cell. Having an "artist's eye" for research allows her to see things others might overlook. "People in general are biased in believing bright stains are most important, and things not intensely stained are not so important," Skop says. "But, sometimes in research, it's exploring what you are not seeing" that yields discovery.