As many of you might know, I have spent the last few months on an unplanned “sabbatical”. When I stopped working, many people have said “now you will have more time for art”. Little did they know. Searching for a new opportunity turned out to take up more time and effort than a full-time job. Surprisingly, I have barely had a chance to sit down at my craft table and enjoy some beading. But now I actually have a looming deadline… Continue Reading
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 recently received a suggestion from a fellow scientist to try making biologically inspired hair clips for young girls. This idea combines a few passions into one. First and foremost, it gives me a new avenue to explore in my artwork. Second, it allows me to makes smaller projects that will be easier to store in large quantities, allowing me to offer a selection of products without overloading our apartment. And last, but certainly not least, it gives a way to promote STEM education for young girls. As a mother of two young daughters myself, I want to see girls getting excited about science at an early age. And if their “sciency” hair clips will serve as a conversation starter about biology, all the better!
Here is my first piece in this series, titled “Filopodia”.
Neuronal Growth Cone turning assay
Filopodia consist of tiny projections of the cellular cytoskeleton, that protrude out and test the surrounding environment. During development and regeneration after injury, neurons send out their filopodia to test where they should extend, turn and connect with their target.
My older daughter was super excited to test out my most recent product!
Also, don’t forget to check out my Etsy Shop!
In October I wrote about a short getaway that brought me some peace. I wrote about the way I enjoyed that mini-vacation. The part I omitted however, was the highlight of my stay. It was right around the time that I started to spread the news about NeuroBead. I thought I had nothing to lose by contacting my my former mentor, who also works in the field of neuroscience. My first thought was a concern of how it would look to reach out to him about a hobby that I pursue on the side. But over the years I have taught myself not to be overly cautious about the impression I make on people. The potential payoff is worth the risk. And I think most of us highly overestimate the potential bad impression we would make on others. Little did I expect that he would actually be willing to buy my work. When I saw his email, I was thrilled! I really had to hold myself back from sharing the good news here before the sale would actually happen.
As I was savoring the news, which made my vacation that much more enjoyable, I had a flashback to the 3D printed reconstruction of microscope images of podocytes (kidney cells) that he had in his office. When I was a graduate student in his lab, another lab member took very elaborate images of podocytes under an electron microscope. He then went through the pain of generating a 3D digital reconstruction, which was then submitted for 3D printing. This sample was then prominently displayed in the professor’s office, and every new person who would walk in, would immediately get a mini-lecture about it. I was looking forward to his ability to talk to other people about NeuroBead after hanging it in his office.
And then the tag game began. When he agreed to purchase my art, I was in Virginia – unable to bring him the piece that I wanted to deliver in person. Then he left the country for a few weeks. When he came back, I had a time crunch at work – unable to leave early to catch him before the end of the day. This week I was finally able to deliver the art to him. It gave me a sense of true satisfaction, seeing how he was examining the details of my work, and even getting distracted by it from a more scientific discussion. While it may be difficult for an artist to part with their work, I was glad to leave it with him – it has found a good home.
This Tuesday I published my next blog post about Sholl analysis. Crickets. For some strange reason it only got one view and no likes. I guess people are taking off for their holiday break already and/or are busy with last minute gifts.
I also tried out the “Get followers” app, which sort of made me feel like I had to compromise my identity to get likes on Instagram. Instead, I payed $0.99 and received 500 likes of my Neuron Astrocyte co-culture shadow box on Instagram. Honestly, I don’t think that it made any difference. Maybe word will get out a bit more for my work to be discovered by the right target audience… It is similar to sending out “ships” that I just read about yesterday. Maybe something will come back.
Neuron Astrocyte Co-culture shadow box
On Monday, I also had an interesting interaction on Instagram. A scientist posting scanning electron microscopy images of insects contacted me about NeuroBead. At first, I thought that he wanted to make a custom order from one of his beautiful images. After a long and roundabout message exchange, it turned out that he just wanted to provide images for my work and charge a commission. After giving it some thought, I decided that it was too early for me to do this. I would much rather take custom orders from people who want to see their work rendered for their own aesthetic pleasure.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org. The first person to re-blog this post will receive a 10% discount for their next purchase!
After digging through my old boxes an assembling the branch of Morning Glory from flowers that I have made ages ago, I felt inspired to make some more arrangements from what I already had in stock. I found 5 delicate pink flowers of fuchsia, that I have probably made equally long ago.
After doing a little bit of research on how these flowers actually grow, while keeping in mind the arrangement simplicity that I liked so much with my Morning Glory project, I set out to assemble them into a branch. First of all, they all needed to receive some stems.
Then I assembled them together into a branch that I intentionally made larger than the space that would hold it. Keeping the theme of “pushing the envelope” going with this project too. I really like how the flowers look so fresh and delicate, yet they fight for their spot under the sun, protruding into the open space, not allowing the frame to confine their growth.
Here is a view from the side to show how 3 dimensional this arrangement turned out to be.
And I could not resist adding a close up of these beautiful, delicate flowers that give a sense of light and warmth in spite of the rapidly approaching winter.
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