I see beauty in nature and even in a well-designed experiment or a cleverly constructed sentence. But I think we all experience that beauty in a different way, and I supposed the level of enthusiasm for experimental design and grammatical elegance is highly variable. I try hard to describe my field of research and share my emerging results in ways that are accessible and engaging. I would say my success is mixed at best. I’m still not really good at answering a very fundamental and important question: “Why do you want to know that?” I try, but sometimes it’s hard to answer that question in a simple and compelling way.
Today I saw my research program through the eyes of some young artists. Over the past semester, students at Falmouth High School developed murals representing research within the WHOI Biology Department. In my case, I sent the students a paragraph about the sea anemone Nematostella, and links to a couple of my blog posts on the topic. I waited to see what they would create based on that information. They surprised me*. Above, the artist interpreted our studies of day-night rhythms as a sort of yin-yang, or maybe two sides of the coin. The day is vibrant and energetic, the night seems inky and mysterious. The shadowy grey anemones remind me that we really don’t know what they are doing out there in the real world. There’s the world we see and experience directly and then there are all the things that happen when we aren’t around.
The STEAM educational movement advocates for the integration of Arts (“A”) into more traditional grouping of STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Proponents claim that the approach promotes creativity and student engagement. From this small recent experience, seeing this painting reminds me that the world can be complex and simple at the same time, and it made me happy to see that someone else was able to find beauty in a muddy little anemone.
(* The students actually produced two paintings. The second one is at least as beautiful as the painting featured here…I’m saving it for a future post).
For more information on STEAM:
P.S. STEAM is not just for the young, but also for the young-at-heart. Check out the beautiful Zentangle drawing my mom made for me!