ASCB COMPASS Outreach Grant Spotlight: Art in STEM Research

art in stemThe ASCB Committee for Postdocs and Students (COMPASS) has proudly hosted 4 cycles of Outreach grants. These grants support projects throughout the year geared toward outreach opportunities that bring cell biology to local communities. Previous award winners have organized diverse outreach efforts, such as teaching an introductory biology course to inmates at San Quentin prison or providing an opportunity for rural, underprivileged elementary students in Georgia to conduct cell biology experiments. In this post, we’d like to spotlight one unique outreach grant project that combined art and science.

Jessica Martinez, a graduate student from Florida State University (FSU) in the laboratory of Thomas Keller, spearheaded the project entitled Art in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Research. Her event presented STEM research in a different medium— as art—in an effort to create a personal connection to science and promote the value of scientific research. Martinez was inspired by the ASCB2 exhibit at the 2012 ASCB Annual Meeting. She comments, “Although our Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Departments host numerous symposiums, colloquiums, and research seminars, these events fail to attract the non-scientific audience. In my mind, these events, although educational, target a scientific audience and appear unapproachable to the non-scientist populace.” To remedy this, Martinez wanted to showcase research as art, with hopes of presenting science in a more approachable and familiar medium for both scientists and the general public.

For Art in STEM, Martinez organized a beautiful exhibit in the Dirac Science Library at FSU for the Spring 2015 semester that featured scientific images and artwork from research by students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty at FSU. Each artwork display included a short caption describing the science in the image and significance of the research. Images represented various fields of research performed at FSU, including several focusing on cell biology. The exhibit was launched with a highly successful opening ceremony reception on February 12, 2015, where over 300 guests viewed the artwork. The opening reception also included an event where the artwork was judged by FSU leaders, including Nobel Laureate Sir Harold Walter Kroto, and FSU Vice President of Student Affairs Mary B. Coburn. Check out the winners here.

Martinez believes the exhibit was an overwhelming success. “Several students were tweeting and posting selfies with their images on Facebook to promote the opening night reception,” said Martinez. Faculty, students, and community members alike have all praised the event. The university library is a public space, which sees a lot of traffic on campus, and Martinez comments that her undergraduate students were shocked to discover all the unique research occurring on campus. Since the exhibit has kicked off, numerous faculty and staff from different departments have contacted her wanting to know how they can conduct similar events in their respective departments. GEOSET studios at FSU has created a documentary, and both FSU news and the local FSU NPR have also featured articles and stories about the event. Importantly, the exhibit brought the community together and fostered conversations about science. Martinez said, “[The exhibit] really was a catalyst for conversation about science advocacy, STEM research, and science education.” The various STEM departments on campus are eager to make this exhibit an annual event and, as a result, the FSU Graduate School has allocated funds to host the event again in Spring 2016. Importantly, this demonstrates that beautiful scientific images like the ones on display at the STEM in Research exhibit can be a powerful tool to bring science to a local community.”

This is one of the many outstanding outreach events that has been funded by COMPASS. There are two opportunities throughout the year to apply for your own funding events to benefit your community, and we encourage all ASCB members to apply!

About the Author:


Pinar Gurel is a postdoctoral fellow in the Alushin lab at Rockefeller University where she is investigating the role of actin structural plasticity in mechanosensation using cryoEM and other biophysical tools. Pinar earned her PhD in the Higgs lab at Dartmouth College where she studied the mechanism of actin filament severing by the formin, INF2. She is currently the co-chair of COMPASS. Email: pinar.s.gurel@gmail.com. Twitter: @pinar_gurel

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