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A Fusion of Art and Science

Posted by , on 24 November 2016

Cytokinetic Abscission In the final step of cell division, the bridge connecting the cells is cut to give rise to two separate daughter cells – a fascinating process I have been working on since I started my PhD. This is a variation of my very first science-themed drawing, which I overlaid with an immunofluorescence staining labeling microtubules (green) and DNA (blue) – a combination of a hand-drawn illustration with real microscopy images that quite literally fuses science and art.

 

I have always loved science, and have always loved art – I combine these passions to illustrate scientific themes with an artistic twist. With my illustrations, I aim to highlight fundamental scientific aspects in an unconventional and refreshing way. I want to add some creativity to the conventional forms of scientific communication, with the aim to spark interest inside and outside the scientific community. I create my drawings for everyone to enjoy – for scientists to appreciate biological findings in a less serious way, and for non-scientists to grasp fundamental biological principles.

I used to draw a lot before studying Molecular Biology at the University of Vienna and the ETH Zürich in Switzerland. I recently completed my PhD in Daniel Gerlich’s group at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA), during which I made my very first science-themed drawing back in 2013. My PhD research focused on cytokinetic abscission, the final step of cell division (shown above, click on images for full size). When I showed that drawing as part of my scientific presentations, I realized that it sparked interest and tended to stay in people’s memories. This is when I discovered that adding an artistic twist to science creates a unique way to communicate science.

 

An Unconventional Take on Scientific Presentations.This picture was taken during my presentation for the Kirsten Peter Rabitsch Award, which I had the honor to receive for my PhD research earlier this year – in it you can see a new version of my very first science drawing.

 

Being part of an institute that encourages creativity has helped me immensely to develop my artistic approaches. I participated in yearly campus-wide ‘Art & Science’ contests, where I experimented with drawing portraits of my colleagues and making a dress to illustrate my research project.

 

When Devotion Begets Emotion. These portraits of my fellow PhD students illustrate the intense emotions researchers face in everyday life in the lab. These drawings were part of a contribution to the Art & Science contest at the Vienna Biocenter, for which my team received the first prize in 2013.

 

The ‘ESCRT’ Dress. Cytokinetic abscission is mediated by a machinery composed of the Endosomal Sorting Complex Required for Transport (ESCRT)-III, which forms polymers that constrict the intercellular bridge until the membranes split. I created this “ESCRT” dress to illustrate how ESCRT-III separates the emerging daughter cells during abscission.

 

I began pursuing scientific art after having my drawing selected for the cover and abstract book of the Cell Cycle Meeting in Cold Spring Harbor. The positive feedback I received there was an incredibly rewarding experience that encouraged me to start creating artwork for other people’s research as well as my own. Since then, I continue making scientific illustrations, one of which was recently featured on the EMBO Journal cover.

 

EMBO Journal Cover. This EMBO Journal cover accompanies a paper on mammalian brain development I was involved in during my Master’s Thesis. The compass represents how the angle of the mitotic spindle in dividing cells affects their ultimate position within the brain – similar to a compass guiding the way to a location on a map.

 

I also began making artistic interpretations of recent scientific discoveries. Below is a small gallery of my illustrations for press releases that highlight recent publications.

 

 

Aside from highlighting research findings, I also began making illustrations for other purposes. For a popular science magazine, I created a less serious drawing illustrating the myth of the “five-second rule”, which suggests that bacteria will wait patiently before contaminating food that has been dropped on the ground.

 

Five-Second Rule.  Illustration for an article in the German version of Scientific American ‘Spektrum der Wissenschaft’.

 

I also had the wonderful opportunity to design the poster for the PhD symposium at the Vienna Biocenter titled ‘Mind the App’, as part of the organizing committee. For this illustration, as well as many of my others, I started by making a hand-drawn black and white sketch using pencils, and overlaid the colors digitally afterwards. I then added the apps on the phone to highlight the diverse applications of basic research that were covered at the conference.

 

Mind the App. Basic research gives rise to many ‘applications’. Poster of the ‘Mind the App’ VBC PhD Symposium at the Vienna Biocenter.

 

When I first started drawing, I mainly focused on creating portraits – in this illustration I got back to my roots to make a short animation about everyday life in the lab.

 

Failed Experiment. An unsuccessful experiment can bring up very intense emotions, which every scientist is certainly familiar with. I created these drawings for an animation to be used in a video for the PhD Program at the Vienna Biocenter

 

I love the challenge of capturing the essence of scientific discoveries in an aesthetic and abstract way, and I am very excited for many more artistic adventures to come. Every drawing is an experiment!

 

Check out my website (www.beatascienceart.com) for recent updates and a complete gallery.
 
All images © 2016 Beata Edyta Mierzwa




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