As I have written in a couple of recent posts (here, here and here), life has been a bit hectic recently. I have been feeling like I am having science withdrawal symptoms. Last week, I have finally received an offer for a new position that I have accepted. For the last 4 years, while I absolutely loved my job, it took me over 1.5 hours to commute in each direction. I wasn’t the favorite part of my day and took a lot of valuable time away from my work, family and personal life. Not to mention NeuroBead. Continue Reading
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!
This week has been a little slow and not particularly productive at work. Plus my daughter got sick and had to be picked up from school in the middle of the day. I always feel the weight of juggling work and family life and strive to find some time to be myself. Artwork brings me peace of mind.
So I decided to take the lemons life gave me and make lemonade. On Thursday evening, my sick daughter was taken to her grandparents and my husband had to work late. After coming home and hanging out a bit with my younger daughter, I put her to bed and decided to dedicate some time to myself. For years I have been carrying a box of unfinished beading projects from one apartment to the next. I used to make a lot of french beaded flowers in the past. So I picked up the box of my budding projects and found three beautiful flowers of morning glory that I have made ages ago.
They looked so bright and fresh and inviting. Like something that could instantly lift up my mood. They just needed a little more TLC to be ready for prime time. They also offered a sense of a short, simple path to completion, which is so rare to come by in my daily life as a scientist. I needed that sense of fast (though not instant) gratification.
Two evenings later the project was complete. I connected the three separate flowers into a single branch, finished off the stem and added a couple leaves. I had a frame that has also been lying around, waiting for the next project to be completed. At first I wanted to put the floral branch on a completely black background of fabric, but then got inspired by one of my recent projects with neurons. So just like the cyan hippocampal neuron I wrote about, this Morning Glory refused to be restrained by the limits of its frame. Its flowers and stem reach beyond the enforced boundaries. This concept speaks to the limitless beauty of nature, whether it is seen on the street or through a microscope.
Last week, I wrote about pushing the limits of science by thinking outside the box. In that sense, “thinking outside the box” is used quite figuratively to indicate how traditional thinking will not lead to new ideas, and constant innovation is necessary to achieve breakthroughs.
In this post, we will examine the same concept in the context of art. Art is also an ever evolving process. While all of the same principles apply to art as to science – in that new techniques and concepts lead to new styles and forms of art; in addition art has the luxury of showing this concept a bit more literally. An artist has the power to control the physical boundaries of his/her work. Continue Reading
We live in a modern world where everything has been said and done. There are so many great minds and creative people that it can often be tough to be original. I have written in my previous posts about how I have always found art to be my oasis. During my childhood and teenage years, I would get lost for days – sitting in my room, working on an art project. I have always loved to process of execution, the attention to details, and the challenges of figuring out the finer points of the project. Yet, in terms of finding original ideas for new projects, I have mostly relied on external sources.
You might say, that is not so new. Probably all artists have built on groundwork laid down by their predecessors. It may be true, and the same concepts apply to science. No one could go at it alone. All new findings build on the previously existing knowledge, modifying and combining ideas to discover or create something new.
Innovation has been a huge buzzword lately. Everywhere. But what does it mean to be truly innovative? When I was a postdoc, I took an entrepreneurship course called Q.E.D – “which is what had to be shown”. One of the first things we discussed in that class was the difference between sustaining vs. disruptive technologies. One of the most popular examples of a disruptive technology is the invention of hydraulics to replace cable-driven excavators. I have found myself to be more closely positioned to the sustaining side, which keeps polishing and improving what is currently available.
During my graduate studies, I was given a project that branched off of a larger, more mainstream, project of one of the postdocs at the time. I had to carve out a very specialized niche and function within it. Moving on to my first job outside of academia, I found myself in a similar situation, where I had to “go with the flow” for a while. Only in the last few months did I really begin to feel truly innovative, proposing bold new ideas that put whole bodies of current knowledge into question. I am beginning to feel more disruptive.
Seeing this daily prompt on originality served as a tipping point for me to begin putting some of my own ideas on paper for NeuroBead as well. I have jotted down a few things in the past that I would like to implement in the near future, and now I have finally begun sketching them out.
My next project will be centered around Sholl analysis. I remember how much I loved the concept during graduate school and tried really hard to find an application for it in my project on neuronal differentiation in response to cannabinoid receptor stimulation. Unfortunately, it did not lead to any interesting results, but the elegance of the method itself still pulls at my aesthetic heartstrings. I hope to begin this project in the near future and will be posting updates on the progress. Stay tuned!
Work and chores get done because the world needs them to be done. Art gets done because there is an internal need for it to happen.
This comment was posted in response to one of my recent posts on“Facts and Data.” My first internal response was: “Absolutely!” But then I paused for a second. There has been a lot of articles on LinkedIn on the topic of a rarely seen event of finding a job that you truly love. One that really gets you out of bed in the morning. Apparently, a very low percentage of people actually like, not to mention love, what they do for a living.
I think I have hit the jackpot on that! As cheesy as it may sound, I do love my job. As much as I think about work/life balance and keep track of how I spend my time; I still spend most of my time outside the lab thinking about science, or at least in scientific terms. I think it is now ingrained as a part of my personality, of who I am. When you are truly passionate about your work, the lines in “work/life balance ” become blurred.
Chores on the other hand… Don’t get me started. Since reading “168 Hours”, I have become a huge fan of outsourcing as much as I can, though in most cases it doesn’t really happen. That’s one of the areas I am still trying to improve.
But then it brings me to the next two questions.
- First, is there a general belief that jobs are like soulmates? That there is only one perfect one out there for each one of us. Personally, I don’t think it’s true in either case – professional calling or love life. No person and no job will be absolutely perfect. But it’s the value they bring that outshines their flaws. Just like we may be willing to put up with annoying habits of our loved ones, we make a conscious choice to tolerate the “rules of the game” in our professional lives. But there needs to be enough inspiration and personal satisfaction for us to make that choice.
- Second, the topic of internal need for art. Yes, I have it, I feel it, and I feel like I have lost a big part of myself in the years that I did not address this need. But why? The biological reward system has evolved to increase our chances of survival in tough times. For example, the satisfaction we get from a good meal is due to the fuel it provides for our body. Animals will learn to press a lever on cue, as long as they are rewarded with a food pellet. But what about art? Why does it bring us such satisfaction? Why do some people (but not others) crave it so much? And why do some people enjoy viewing art, whereas others primarily enjoy creating it? Maybe it is the next round of evolution…
Personally, I feel the most inspired when I can bridge my left hemisphere that thinks about complex biological problems, with my right, that craves a stream of artistic creativity. At NeuroBead, I get both!