Art, science merge at UMass Amherst Polymer Research Center

April 16, 2003

AMHERST, Mass. - A major research center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is launching a new program that combines science and art. The project, dubbed "Ventures in Science Using Art Laboratory," (VISUAL), is a series of artistic prints that began as images viewed with sophisticated microscopes used at the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) at UMass Amherst. The center is part of the University's department of polymer science and engineering.

The effort is the brainchild of Linda Strzegowski, assistant to the center's director, Thomas P. Russell. "In my position with MRSEC, I have had the opportunity to see beautiful images resulting from the research being done," said Strzegowski. In addition to the images' scientific value, she said, it was clear to her that they could also be appreciated as art. Russell responded that perhaps they should treat them as art by printing the images on canvas, then matting and framing them. "Thus VISUAL was born," Strzegowski said.

The effort has begun with four images, which are on display in the lecture room of the Silvio O. Conte National Center for Polymer Research, on the UMass Amherst campus. There are hopes of adding to the collection, Strzegowski notes: "The number of images with the potential to be viewed as art seems infinite." Each framed image is accompanied by a scientific explanation.

In one image, what looks like a filmy, fluorescent green sheet lays crumpled against a black background. The gauzy green image is in fact particles of cadmium selenide, 10,000 times smaller than a human hair, assembling themselves at the interface between oil and water. In another, bright red ovals sit in the middle of stretchy, weblike structures. The webs are microfilaments of actin, a cell protein, and the bright spots are the cells' nuclei.

The printed images are micrographs - literally, photographs taken with optical, electron, and atomic force microscopes. There are plans to display numerous images throughout the Conte Center. Strzegowski hopes to eventually have them exhibited in galleries.

The team working on the project is small: Strzegowski, Russell, and educational consultant Kathy Russell, to whom he is married.

Tom Russell calls the effort "an excellent way to reach everyday people in explaining what scientists do, and why research efforts are important. This project enables us to convey scientific concepts to non-scientists in a meaningful way."
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Note: Linda Strzegowski can provide images. She can be reached at 413-545-2680 or mrsec@polysci.umass.edu
Broadcasters: Strzegowski is pronounced "streh - GOW - skee"

University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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