This single word describes my current state quite accurately. In the beginning of April, an unpredictable event knocked the ground out from under my feet. Due to unfortunate external circumstances, the place I loved working at had to drastically downsize its staff in order to stay afloat. As my daughter likes to sing “like a small boat on the ocean”, I have been drifting ever since.
Last year, when I founded NeuroBead, I based it on the idea that scientists like myself would want to see beautiful images from their research commemorated as pieces of art, that they could display on their walls. Many academic institutions, especially neuroscience departments, decorate their hallways with enlarged photos of cells that were taken under a microscope. These images are both gorgeous to look at and representative of the great scientific discoveries achieved by the researchers. They deserve to be preserved and remembered. Many departments and microscopy facilities even send out calls for best image competitions. I wanted to take this process one step further and portray this integration of science and visual art in a more creative form. Continue Reading
I have to admit, I have not been here in a while. Life has been a bit hectic. Every time I thought about writing, the same topic came to mind – the dichotomy of art and science. I have written before about how science and art are considered to be at the polar opposite ends of the spectrum of logic and creativity. How can they live in harmony in one person? The word “harmony” reminds me of how I have also written about the concept of “flow” described by the Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. At that point I have not read the book “Flow” yet, and was only basing my writing on the descriptions of flow I was able to find online. Based on these descriptions, I was reaching the ultimate state of flow while working on my beadwork. Continue Reading
It has been a while since I have given an update on my beadwork. While I was working on the hair clips I have described in my previous posts here, here and here, my older daughter suggested a new idea. She has all of the symptoms of a child raised by scientists. Her most recent writing project in school focused on explaining how vaccines work! She has been fascinated with our “Bring your kid to work day” and has tried doing some simple experiments in museums and at home. She has also admired my artwork and has tried to get involved.
So when she saw me making biological hair clips in the form of cells,she requested a Red Blood Cell! Red blood cells are unique in that unlike all other cells they do not have a nucleus and have a slightly “pinched” morphology. They are responsible for carrying oxygen through our blood stream.
Here is a little bit of behind the process and how the clip turned out. I love the simple elegance that it projects!
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I have always been attracted to symmetry. Ever since childhood, symmetry and equilibrium have always put me at ease and gave me a sense of aesthetic satisfaction.
In graduate school, I studied the process of differentiation (read “development”) of nerve cells called neurons. Neurons have beautiful architecture, but are never actually symmetrical. Yet they still give that sense of balance. One metric of neuronal differentiation is the measurement of their processes called neurites. Neurons send out their neurites in all directions to sense the surrounding environment and bring information back to the mother ship – the cell body. Their growth and branching can be measured using so called Sholl analysis, in which you draw multiple concentric circles around the cell body and count the number of times each circle intersects with a neurite. That gives a good measure of neuronal branching, which is directly proportional to the cell’s capacity of receiving and integrating information.
While my project primarily required calculating the percentage of cells that met a certain criteria of minimal differentiation, when I first found out about Sholl analysis , I tried very hard to find an application for it. I was secretly hoping that the treatment I applied to the cells would have an observable effect on their branching, just so that I could get the aesthetic satisfaction of performing Sholl analysis. It seemed a bit silly, but brought a different type of gratification.
Towards the end of this summer, I found myself in need of finding a few peaceful moments. I sat down in a local park after work and sketched out a diagram of Sholl analysis with a beaded neuron in the middle. This idea has been in the back of my mind ever since I started NeuroBead.
Weeks later, my daughter saw the sketch in my notebook and asked how I could draw out every single bead in the sketch. I smiled.
The actual challenge came much later, when I began to brainstorm how to assemble the framework for this piece. It need to be sturdy but floating, concentric but three-dimensional. It reminded me of the spiral of knowledge I wrote about in my personal statement for graduate school.
Here is the finished piece that still pulls at my heartstrings. It gives a sense of peace and balance, while leaving enough room for individuality, curiosity and exploration as the neurites project their tips in different directions to make sense of their surroundings. They are pushing their limits to explore the unknown.
This is a limited edition piece that has not been posted in my Etsy Shop. For purchasing information, please contact me directly at email@example.com. The first person to re-blog this post will receive a 10% discount for their next purchase!
When I made the decision to start NeuroBead, I began to browse the internet for some inspiring images of neuronal cells in culture. The perfect picture had to meet several criteria. It had to be colorful, bright and vibrant, scientifically accurate and detailed, and yet simple enough to make in my first attempt. For my first piece I chose an image of astrocyte and neuronal co-culture.
The two cell types were labeled with red and green fluorescent markers and were also easily distinguishable by their distinctive cell shapes. I was determined to turn confocal microscopy on its head and convert an ultra-flat image into a three-dimensional rendering. In the interest of injecting some creativity into the process, I made my own interpretation of the image, drawing on my experience of culturing these cells in the lab.
While I was happy with how it turned out, the convex protrusions of cell bodies did not seem like enough for me. I wanted to see if I could create a completely three-dimensional, free-floating cell. Moreover, I wanted it to have a solid three dimensional nucleus. So this is where I started.
My initial intention was to make a neuron, as I consider these to be my favorite cells. Their slender morphology never seizes to amaze me. But, as the cell body began to grow, it appeared to take on a shape of a lustrous astrocyte.
I have always been attracted to symmetry, and while cells in culture are almost never symmetrical, I wanted this artwork to fit into a square frame, just like the majority of pictures we take under a confocal microscope. However, keeping with my theme of science reaching beyond its limits, this cell was not constrained by its frame and extended its processes outward, to sense the world beyond its immediate reach.
I am very happy to say that “The Royal Astrocyte” was purchased last week by a fellow scientist and I am very grateful to my very first customer!
I have not come across this concept in English language until intentionally Googling it yesterday morning. But in Russian culture the term “law of series” is used on a regular basis. In the interest of not reinventing the wheel, I will provide a loose translation of an older blog post I have found here. Briefly, there appears to trend of unusual events occurring in pairs or multiples. Some examples include: getting on a train to go into the city and getting on exactly the same train on the way back, seeing a rare medical case in ER immediately followed by one of a very similar nature, or getting a call from a long-lost friend that you just spoke to someone about.
The “law” is not listed in any textbooks, does not appear to follow any laws of physics or other sciences, nor is it related to any religious beliefs. There appears to be no logical explanation for it, yet it is also not considered to be a superstition per se. Personally, I think that it is more closely related to the concept of “beauty in the eye of beholder”. In other words, if a rare event happens and gets echoed by another one in close progression, a person is more likely to notice the pattern. But there are probably millions of events that happen once and therefore do not catch our attention.
This comes back to patterns and repetition that I wrote about in a recent post. If I would have looked at the photos taken by this artist, I probably would not have noticed a pattern. But the fact that she grew up with twin sisters, gave the artist a unique perspective on what she was drawn to in her photos. Each person has their own “eye of the beholder” and therefore is likely to notice different patterns.
Here is an example that I recently experienced. Over the last few months, I have dedicated multiple evenings to my beadwork. At the end of most evenings I would look at the weather forecast for the next day. More often than not, I would see the following warning: “Small craft advisory”.
My husband and I cracked up every time, joking that the Weather Channel app knows that I am making small beaded crafts at home. Beware!
In truth, of course, it just meant that the weather was so windy that small aircrafts need to take extra caution. I have to admit that it actually took me a while to figure that out.
Not long after the pattern of “small craft advisories” that we mostly associated with me making crafts at home, we went on a short vacation that I described earlier. And guess what? The aircraft that we boarded to fly to Washington DC looked like a pretty small aircraft that did not look very reassuring. We even had to walk on the tarmac to get to it.
As for the pattern of repetition in my work on NeuroBead, here are five replicates (couldn’t help using this scientific term) of fuchsia that I have made a while ago. Just like the Morning Glory, these will soon be incorporated into a frame and posted here for the world to see.
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