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Artists collaborate with researchers in new art show at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine

April 11, 2017

Carissa James looks at paintings
Research scientist Carissa James looks at paintings being dropped off by local artist Radford Thomas. The two were paired up for a new exhibit at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.

Artists who had been welcomed into New River and Roanoke valley research laboratories during the past couple of months, are conveying the process and meaning of the research in visual form using the medium and style of their choice.

Now the public will get to see the result at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine’s latest art exhibition, “Research in the Abstract.” The exhibit will be at the medical school, located at 2 Riverside Circle in Roanoke, Virginia, April 10 through July 31. The public is invited to interact with participating artists and researchers at an opening reception April 27, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

The artwork will be displayed alongside research project summaries and scientific images, enabling viewers to learn about the science that inspired the corresponding artworks.

More than 50 teams of artists and researchers were paired for the show. Artists used a variety of media for their work, such as photography, painting, sculpture, and textiles, among others. The artists’ works and accompanying wall text will provide viewers with an enhanced understanding and appreciation for the work being undertaken in scientific laboratories at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute, Carilion Clinic, Virginia Tech, and more. Of the scientists participating, 65 percent conduct their work at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute (VTCRI).

Carissa James, a graduate student in the Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health program in the Smyth Laboratory at VTCRI, and Robyn Umans, a postdoctoral associate in the Sontheimer Laboratory also at VTCRI, proposed the idea to the Office of Community and Culture at the medical school and helped recruit fellow researchers to participate.

Umans participated in similar art shows while she was a graduate student at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis.

“The Art of Science was a partnership between St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where I was fortunate to perform my graduate research, and the hard work of local Memphian artists. The show was a vibrant blend of innovative discovery and creativity in our community,” Umans said. “I loved how it brought a different light to what I focused on for so many years. And ultimately, it was a way to bring people together, in and out of science, to appreciate the beauty science and art share.”

Umans researched blood-brain barrier development in graduate school and was drawn to the Sontheimer lab for its translational research. In her postdoctoral work, Umans researches the molecular regulation of a protein that conveys protection to glioma, a kind of brain tumor, during malignancy and treatment.

Current therapies also have challenges to cross the blood-brain barrier so studying proteins that demonstrate tumor invasiveness may be key for future drug development.

Umans worked with artist Ana Maria Morales for this show. Morales works with a variety of media to create pieces inspired and informed by her life as a type 1 diabetic. She is interested in blending scientific imagery and knowledge with patterns, symbols, self-portraiture, and representations of diabetes-related scenes and objects from personal experience.

Spring 2017 Art Show
Robyn Umans and Ana Maria Morales

“This partnership with Robyn allowed me the rare opportunity to visit an active research lab and speak directly to a scientist about microscopic images that I can’t easily decipher myself. Her enthusiasm for her work and openness during our meeting was inspiring and so helpful,” said Morales.

James teamed up with artist Radford Thomas.

“It was exciting to see how intrigued Dr. Thomas was by the super-resolution microscope setup and imaging. This imaging technique is computationally based, and I think his background in graphic design will allow that to be conveyed in the art work,” said James.

“Carissa explained her research to me in a way that has motivated me to develop two paintings related to Healthy Heart vs. Stressed Heart. She explained the theory behind her research and the visual images she produced for me to examine. It was a pleasure to talk with her about the super-resolution microscope and to examine it closely. What a great experiment,” Thomas said.

Spring 2017 Art Show
Radford Thomas and Carissa James

Creativity and innovation are paramount to the fields of art and science, but collaboration opportunities are often hard to find. Exhibition coordinators hope that this exhibit will encourage participants and visitors to consider exciting new ways for art and science to work together.

“Our hope is this show will make science more accessible to the general public,” said David Trinkle, associate dean for community and culture. “When you think of science, you may visualize something sterile – white lab coats, microscopes, and vials of chemicals – but the work goes beyond that. We look forward to sharing the beauty of science and its implications for bettering our society through the talents of our local artists.”

The exhibition also will include artworks by students at William Fleming High School, who were matched with students' science fair projects from Roanoke Valley Governor’s School, providing local youth with the unique opportunity to combine art with science.

The participating artists may choose to put their art work(s) up for sale with the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, which will collect a 20 percent commission to underwrite future art programs and shows.

The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine building normally has restricted access, so the public reception April 27 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. is an ideal time to see the exhibit. Following the reception, viewing of the art can be arranged by appointment. Contact Deputy Exhibition Curator Carrie Knopf via email or call 540-342-0481.

To see a full list of participating artists and researchers, visit the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine’s website.

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