NEB TV Ep. 14 – Art and Science

Does creativity inspire you to be a better scientist? Learn more about the often unpredictable ways that art and science intersect in the latest episode of NEB TV.

Script

NEB TV, what's trending in science.

 

Deana Martin:

Welcome to NEB TV. In our last episode of the year, we're talking about art and science. In our Science in 60, Memo Berkmen, one of our staff scientists, will be talking about artistic creativity and why that is so important to New England Bio labs. Then we will hear from Memo and a local artist, Maria Penil, and talk about their collaboration to produce beautiful bio art. Lastly, we'll hear from some of our 2016 Passion in Science winners about how art influences their science, and how science influences their art. Let's get started.

 

Science in 60

 

Memo Berkmen:

You might be surprised to learn that NEB headquarters is covered in art. From the sculptures that grace the grounds of our campus to the gallery that sits just inside our main entrance. New England Biolabs believes there is a real place for art in science. I personally believe that art and science are inseparable. We as scientists must be creative when looking to solve scientific questions. And artists often use science and nature as their muse. We're always looking for new and unpredictable ways that art and science intersect. The art collection at NEB has grown over the last forty years, and helps to inspire the creativity that drives scientific breakthroughs. We also support local art programs out of the core belief that fostering creativity is essential to self improvement and social change.

 

Making of Agar Art

 

Deana Martin:

Today, I am joined Memo Berkmen, who is one of our staff scientists, and Maria Penil, who is a local artist.

 

Hi, how are you? Could you tell us a little bit about how you first met, and about how your collaboration works?

 

Memo Berkmen:

We met at a restaurant. I went to this restaurant and I saw this beautiful biological themed artwork on the walls. I asked the staff, "who made this artwork?" And they introduced me to Maria, and I was looking an artist opportunity like Maria. And I asked Maria, "do you mind coming to my lab and seeing the bacteria and the artwork at NEB?"

 

Maria Penil:

So he invited me to NEB and he showed me all the art around and he proposed me this project to work with bacteria. And because my art always is being inspired in biological themes in nature, I immediately fall in love with bacteria.

 

Deana Martin:

So what are we looking at here? What is this?

 

Memo Berkmen:

This is a collection of Maria's artwork. When she first started to work, this is kind of an old piece, we wanted to do something for NEB. Put our artwork for display, not just be locked up in the lab. So she started making bunch of different artworks and she actually made the frame and all the wires and everything, and this is several, several years old. Maybe three or four years old, and it has changed a lot. And the new work she does now is more vibrant, more interesting than this old piece.

 

Deana Martin:

So how do you go about making the artwork?

 

Maria Penil:

So we paint with bacteria in the agar, and then I take the agar and embed it in dressing so we can see it.

 

Memo Berkmen:

Maria joined the lab as a pure artist and over the years I've seen her evolve her art work as she really understands the bacteria really well. She knows which ones grow fast, which ones take time, she doesn't apply all the bacteria at one time, she puts layer after layer. Takes them out at room temperature, or thirty degrees, or thirty seven degrees, and watching her do her artwork is quite inspirational.

 

Deana Martin:

So Memo, you were the first winner of the ASM Agar Art Award, and you also won the FACEB Bio Art award, that's really fantastic.

 

Memo Berkmen:

Yeah, the awards came while we had no intention of applying. We just saw it randomly one day and I said to Maria, there's no chance we'll ever win. And we submit it, and to our surprise and happiness, we won both awards. And they kind of opened the door to many media outlets and attentions. We've been interviewed by CNN and Huffington Post. I even got a spam email once with our artwork in it.

 

Deana Martin:

Well congratulations to you both and I look forward to seeing your next pieces.

 

Maria Penil:

Thank you.

 

Memo Berkman:

Thank you.

 

The Intersection of Art and Science

 

Scott Chimilesk:

So the perception that art and science are not integrated is really a myth.

 

Christine Liu:

I think art and science actually have a lot in common.

 

Dana Simmons:

Science and art have a lot of intersection points, which is one of the things, I think, that has really drawn me to science.

 

Will Ryan:

Science takes creativity to do. And so everything about science takes thinking about the world in unique ways and kind of analyzing the world in a similar way to what an artist would do.

 

Scott Chimilesk:

I think that myth began with this concept of left brain vs. right brain, which in terms of neurobiology is not supported. So one of the largest structures in the brain, for example, is the corpus callosum that connects the left brain to the right brain. So, though there may be different activities happening on one side of the brain or the other, there's no true division between creativity and analytical thought.

 

Dana Simmons:

When you combine the creative side and the scientific side, they both have that observation skill in common. So science art has been a really great field for me to explore those connections.

 

Christine Liu:

They both require a lot of creativity which I think is very underrated. But also, they inspire wonder in artists, scientists, and non-scientists, and non-artists alike.

 

Will Ryan:

Art is this way of putting the human aspect back into science and it helps us remember that science is inherently a very human endeavor. It's a process that's done by humans, for humans, and that it's not a problem to put the humanity back into science.

 

Deana Martin:

So thanks so much for joining us today. And as always, if you have any suggestions for future episodes, please let us know. And we look forward to seeing you next year.

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