Microbiome Center presentations to explore art and science collaborations

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — How artists and scientists can work together to forge a better understanding of the world is the goal of a November mini-symposium spanning two weekly sessions sponsored by Penn State's Microbiome Research Center.

"The Microbiome Center seeks to build the broadest community of scholars to study communities — microbiomes — under the premise that true innovation is made at the boundaries of what we know and at the intersections of disciplines," said Carolee Bull, interim director of the center. "Bringing the arts and sciences together allows us to look at problems with different lenses and may lead to opportunities that we have yet to conceive."

Bull, head of the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology in the College of Agricultural Sciences, further noted that these sessions will help researchers in science, technology, engineering and math understand how to approach artists as collaborators. She encourages faculty and instructors in STEM fields and the arts to attend.

The first event will take place from 11 a.m. until noon on Nov. 3 in W203 Millennium Science Complex. Featured speaker is 2016-17 Penn State Laureate Rebecca Strzelec, professor of visual arts and program coordinator of Visual Art Studies at Penn State Altoona. She uses computer-aided design to create wearable art that has greater meaning than the objects themselves. Her presentation is titled, "Wearable Narratives: Combining Art, Science and Technology."

"I see art and science as two sides of the same coin or two of the many components of a larger system," she said. "Both art and science are manifestations of problem-solving and practice. The differences are in the kinds of audiences that receive or experience the outcome and how that outcome is used. Really, we do a lot of the same things, in the same ways, with the same tools." 

On Nov. 10 at the same time and location, a panel of three artists — Cristin Lindsay Millett, Tom Lauerman and Cynthia Niemeyer White — will encourage attendees to explore collaborative opportunities between artists and scientists.

Millett, a professor of art, teaches sculpture and runs the foundry program at Penn State's School of Visual Arts. She employs both traditional and novel tools, such as digital fabrication, to create sculptural objects and site-specific installations. Her research spans the areas of medical history, life sciences and digital technologies. Millett is also an embedded researcher at the Penn State Arts and Design Research Incubator in the College of Arts and Architecture.

Lauerman is an artist whose constant tinkering with robots, ceramic kilns and design software informs his teaching and studio work. Recent collaborations with faculty and students in engineering, materials science, architecture and art education have aided his development of a unique set of tools for 3-D printing clay. Lauerman teaches a wide range of courses in subjects that include new media, ceramics, sculpture, foundations and general education.

White, research associate in the Arts and Design Research Incubator, is a documentarian with a history of telling biological stories from the bench and the field. She is an active member of the Microbiome Center and recently presented her proposal for work on interspecies microbial ecologies, a film-driven investigation into the microbial pathways shared between animals and humans. The project is in collaboration with Jason Rasgon, professor of entomology and disease epidemiology, and Joyce Sakamoto, research associate in entomology, both in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

The goal of the Penn State Microbiome Research Center is to support transformative, interdisciplinary research in microbiomes by fostering long-term working relationships, while simultaneously providing infrastructure and resources needed for increasing the diversity and breadth of microbiome research and educational opportunities at Penn State.

Units involved in the center include the colleges of Agricultural Sciences, Communications, Earth and Mineral Sciences, Engineering, Health and Human Development, Information Sciences and Technology, and Medicine and the Eberly College of Science. Also participating are the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, the Social Science Research Institute, the Institutes of Energy and the Environment, and the Institute for CyberScience. Active members also come from the Arts Design Research Incubator and from other Penn State campuses.

More information, including a list of weekly meetings and special events, is available on the Microbiome Center's website at

How artists and scientists can work together is the goal of November mini-symposium spanning two weekly sessions sponsored by Penn State's Microbiome Research Center. Shown is an artistic image of a reef-building coral, which is home to diverse communities of microorganisms, including dinoflagellates, fungi, bacteria, archaea and viruses. Credit: FJ PollockAll Rights Reserved.

Last Updated November 01, 2017