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Published February 06, 2020
Science and art are often seen as opposites, but a University of Wyoming program funded by an EPSCoR National Science Foundation grant exemplifies how the two fields can enhance each other -- and engage children across the state.
The program -- Science Loves Art -- aims to bring science to life via art that reaches throughout the state.
UW received a five-year, $20 million grant from EPSCoR (Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research), and the main grant focuses on studying microbiomes across the state to help predict how different regions respond to environmental disturbances. Microbiomes are made of the micro-organisms in a particular environment. These organisms play essential roles in cycling nutrients, decomposing organic matter and determining the fate of pollutants released by human activities.
Laramie artist René Williams answered the call when UW sought artists and outreach collaborations as part of the microbiomes grant.
“As an artist, I look at the shapes and textures, and the visuals I can learn from that are appealing and inspiring,” Williams says. “Microbes are very beautiful and interesting. The problem is most people don’t look at them, see them or think of them that way. The first year of this grant we focused on small worlds and the visuals of microbes and the importance of small worlds -- the things we can’t see but that affect our everyday lives.”
Williams found that techniques including glass fusing, marbling and paint pouring can illustrate the visuals of microbes. In addition to workshops in Laramie, Science Loves Art developed kits for Suminagashi marbling, an art technique in which ink floats on water, inspired by the images and movement of microbes. The kits include all the supplies needed for 16 pieces of art, plus a handout that explains how the art ties to microbes. A YouTube channel also demonstrates the techniques.
“We just delivered 180 kits to be distributed to Boys and Girls Clubs across Wyoming, including Casper, Buffalo, Glenrock, Dubois and the Eastern Shoshone club in Fremont County,” says Science Loves Art Program Director Ivy Thompson. “We've sent kits to Wind River Elementary, Rock Springs elementary, St. Stephens Indian School, Rawlins High School and are partnering with Big Brothers/Big Sisters to distribute kits to their bigs and littles around the state.”
Kits also recently were delivered to a new collaboration with Boys and Girls Club of Central Wyoming and the Eastern Shoshone for their after-school programs.
Science Loves Art has distributed over 1,000 kits so far and, depending on the number of sponsors, organizers hope to distribute another 2,000 kits before June 30. They also plan a second kit design with paint pouring. Priority distribution goes to children in rural and isolated Wyoming communities.
In addition to the kits, Science Loves Art stays active in Laramie.
“Our studio is in downtown Laramie, and we have many collaborations that bring downtown Laramie and UW communities together,” Williams says. “We've hosted exhibitions at our studio and mentored art/honors students; worked with the EPSCoR group on exhibits; and are now collaborating with the new makerspace to combine our efforts to bring art and science to our communities in Laramie and statewide.”
Upcoming art workshops in Laramie include marbling, glass, beeswax wraps, paint pouring and pendant making, as well as talks by scientists. Science Loves Art seeks more artists to collaborate with and welcomes scientists and artists to apply for an upcoming exhibition. To learn more, visit www.sciencelovesart.org and www.uwyo.edu/epscor.