May 2, 2003

Program encourages kids to see science as art

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Kim Kane, aka Dr. ArtScience, applauds the fifth- and sixth-grade students and their families for their excellent work in the ArtScience program at a celebration in their honor. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Program encourages kids to see science as art

A new art show opened this week in Medical Research Building III. Hanging among the scientific posters on the third and fourth floors are the creations of 35 Nashville public school students, the winners of “ArtScience,” a contest sponsored by the Vanderbilt Program in Developmental Biology.

The opening gala included hot popcorn, Sno-cones, and “decorate-your-own” cupcakes, plus “art gallery” and laboratory tours for the students and their parents and teachers.

“Watching the kids’ eyes light up and being able to share with them what we do here was really exciting,” said Kimberly Kane, coordinator of the Program in Developmental Biology and a co-originator of the ArtScience contest. Kane and Christopher V. E. Wright, D.Phil., the program’s director, created ArtScience to introduce developmental biology and Vanderbilt’s research to fifth and sixth graders in ENCORE, the Nashville public school program for gifted students.

The idea was a natural for Kane, who is trained as an artist. “I look at the scientific illustrations in our program’s publications, and to me they’re art,” she said. “I see the abstract art in them.”

The students were provided with boxes of scientific and artistic materials and were visited by “Dr. ArtScience” — Kane sporting an Einstein wig, wire frame glasses, and a lab coat decorated with scientific images. “Dr. ArtScience” described developmental biology and the research being conducted at Vanderbilt and answered questions from the students. After the visit and an opportunity to explore the materials, which included addresses for “cool” science Web sites, the students were invited to “take whatever they knew or might have learned and interpret it artistically,” Kane said. “The only limitation we put on it was that it had to have something to do with developmental biology.

“And boy, who knew that they would respond so well. They really did a great job.”

Of the 350 artworks created, 100 finalists were selected by ENCORE teachers and submitted to Vanderbilt. A team of judges determined the 35 winners. The framed works will be displayed in MRB3 until the middle of June.

Students at the opening celebration said the project was fun and that they learned a lot. “I had no idea what a nerve cell looked like, all the different parts,” said Madeleine Wright, 12, a sixth grader at Meigs Magnet School, whose painting, “The Nerve Cell,” was a winner.

“It was all really interesting and new,” said Elizabeth Wei, 12, also a Meigs student. Wei’s painting, “Attack of the Virus,” was among the honored works.

The enthusiasm of the students was rewarding for Kane. “We have a chance to show these kids how cool science really is, and hopefully that will have an impact on some of them.”

Kane anticipates that ArtScience will be offered every other year. She will work with the ENCORE teachers this summer to develop another program, for the alternating years, that will complement their lesson plans. Kane had high praise for the ENCORE teachers, who rearranged their schedules this year to accommodate ArtScience. “Their support was incredible,” she said.

Since the launch of ArtScience, the Program in Developmental Biology has become an official PENCIL partner of the ENCORE program. PENCIL partners offer community support to the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. “We look forward to maintaining and enhancing our relationship with the ENCORE program,” Kane said.