The art of science, the science of art

Most of us tend to think of art and science as being two very different subjects. They certainly were in my high school where I frequently got in trouble for doodling when I should have been paying attention to the chemistry teacher. But increasingly today we are seeing efforts to show that the two are not just related, but connected and complementary.

Kelly Milukas is an artist who is trying to bring the worlds of art and science together in a way that both engages and informs. Milukas uses the symbolism of keys as a way to illustrate how science attempts to unlock the mysteries of the human body. She also explores the world of regenerative medicine by showing the beauty of stem cells as seen through pictures taken with microscopes. They’re not only important from a scientific perspective; they are also stunning works of art.

Kelly’s work was originally commissioned by the Regenerative Medicine Foundation (RMF) for an exhibition in Palm Beach, Florida. RMF cites as part of its mission the need to explore “the body’s natural ability to heal itself.”

Now RMF and Kelly are bringing that message, and that art, to the San Francisco Bay Area. Kelly will be presenting her art and talking about the inspiration behind it in a special free public event as part of the RMF’s national conference on Monday, May 5th at 6.30pm at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley.

The presentation is called “Keys to the Cure & the Art of Science: Unlocking the Body’s Ability to Heal Itself.” The art will be used as a springboard for a wider discussion about stem cells and regenerative medicine featuring one of the world’s best know stem cell scientists, Dr. Anthony Atala, Director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Atala is best know for his research using stem cells, and a 3D printer, to create new tissues and organs. Alongside Atala will be two great friends of the stem cell agency, Patient Advocates Katie Jackson and Don Reed.

A news release put out by RMF has all the details of the event.

A mirror image event, called “Stem Cells Offer Hope”, is being held at U.C. Irvine on Thursday,  May 1. This features powerful images of stem cells that represent hope for people battling deadly diseases.

In a news release about the event Sidney Golub, Ph.D., Director of the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center says:

“As researchers, we are often awed by these microscopic stem cells and the enormity of their contributions to the growth and repair of the human body. We chose images from our research studies that capture the excitement of what these cells will accomplish. Once we unlock their potential, it will change the way medicine is practiced.” 

At the University of Southern California they are using art to break down barriers. They got two groups of students, one studying art and design and the other stem cell biology, to collaborate on a project to try and come up with a new way of communicating about stem cells.

The results ranged from a watercolor of zebrafish skull images,as seen under a microscope, to a giant environmental design project for the USC stem cell building.

The works are not just visually engaging, according to Andy McMahon, head of USC Stem Cell, they also serve a valuable purpose:

“Beyond the works of art that have been forged through this collaboration, scientists have improved their ability to communicate with non-scientists, and art students have learned the beauty of science through first-hand lab experience. This has expanded our perspectives and our worlds.”

And in the end isn’t that what both science and art try to do, to change the world we live in, and to change the way we see that world.

kevin mccormack

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