UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Stopping by for their morning coffee in December, patrons of Webster’s Bookstore Cafe in downtown State College were treated to an unusual installment in the David R. Neumann Art Gallery — works featuring the beauty of living cells.
The exhibition for the month, titled “The Art of Cell Biology,” featured 18 pieces of science-based artwork, including vividly colored microscopic images of breast cancer cells, tendrils of parasitic fungus in an ant, expanding bacterial colonies, and the surface of a DNA molecule. All of the artwork was produced by Penn State researchers, including 11 from the Eberly College of Science.
“Many images produced during the scientific process are quite beautiful, and the scientific community is starting to share these images with the general public to spark their interest in science,” said Claire Thomas, associate professor of biology and biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State and curator of the exhibit. “Scientists are very concerned about a lack of public understanding of science, so an effort is being made to make science more relatable. Using art is one way to do so.”
The works on display at Webster’s were originally solicited from researchers across the University who were attending a conference on presenting data — from traditional techniques to interpreting data with sound and dance — sponsored by the Center for Cellular Dynamics within the Penn State Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences. Thomas collected the images and had them printed and displayed during the conference.
“There was a very positive reaction to the collection at the conference,” said Thomas, “and we thought that it might produce a similar reaction among members of the State College community. Webster’s provided a wonderful venue because so many different people stop in for coffee or events. It has been really interesting to see what appeals to community members as opposed to what appeals to scientists. Like all art, it’s an individual reaction.”