Gallery 217 showcases science as art

By Aishwarya Raj, Staff Writer

On the corner of University Avenue in downtown Champaign lies Gallery 217 in the

same area where former art gallery indi go Co­Op used to be.

This past Friday, the gallery was filled with artwork spanning the walls of both its floors

as well as the people responsible for these illustrations. Nothing was unusual about the

people or the artwork except for the fact that these artists were in fact scientists —

genomic scientists to be specific — and the artwork was pictures taken from their

research.

This event was known as “Art of Science 6.0,” and the idea behind it was to merge both

science and art to show genomic research is just as vividly captivating as the

masterpieces lining the walls of modern art museums. This is the sixth year that the

event has been running but the first year that it has been held at Gallery 217.

According to Mandy Danowitz, gallery manager, the idea was a novel concept to her

because this is her first time managing it, and she has been running the gallery since

July. She said the event was “a feast for the soul and a feast for the mind.”

To her, one of the unique aspects of this type of art show is that it bridged the aesthetic

of art pieces with the scientific meaning and research behind them. Every piece in the

showcase was a part of different ongoing research investigations at Institute for

Genomic Biology.

One such piece was titled “Green Revolutions” by artist Dr. Amy Marshall­Colon,

assistant professor in the Department of Plant Biology, who is heading the research on

plant genes, specifically regarding gene expression and how genes react to

environmental cues, such as light and nitrogen availability.

When asked about the creative process as well as the methodology behind her art, she

responded, “Color and shape are hugely important when we’re making these network

models.”

“I can use different shapes and different colors to categorize these different kinds of

genes, and that helps me when I have a network of 800 to a 1,000 genes,” Marshall-
Colon said. “This also helps me zero in on certain molecules for further study.”

To make these visual models, Marshall­Colon uses a free computer program called

Cytoscape. She takes raw gene expression and feeds the numbers into Cytoscape,

which then generates the visual networks that are depicted in her art piece.

Courtney Cox, outreach and activities manager at IGB, also added that the goal of this

program was to bring the science and research that is being done at the Institute into

the community to get community members interested in the scientific problems the

researchers are investigating.

Every year, the “Art of Science” event evolves a little bit more, and this year, it

incorporated images from an entirely new set of research as well as the new

microscopy which is an addition to the Genomic Institute. One common theme that

stays the same from year to year is that the images incorporate genomes in some

shape or form.

“Anything living has a genome and that can be studied and we’ll have anything from

plant cells to spider silk to even kidney stones,” Cox said.

The show ran from Friday, April 29 to Sunday, May 1, after which the artwork will travel

to places around the local community, such as Research Park, the Alumni Center and

Willard Airport.

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