Prior to the 2017 Materials Research Society (MRS) Spring Meeting and Exhibit in Phoenix from April 17 to 21, Chemical Engineering (ChE) Professor Sarah Perry and two of her undergraduate students submitted a piece of scientifically related art work that was selected as a finalist for the MRS Science as Art competition, whose purpose was to show the aesthetic beauty of scientific images. Perry’s participating students are Savannah Szemethy, a sophomore ChE major, and Matthew Gagnon, a senior in mathematics. Szemethy and Gagnon’s MRS submission, titled Bloom, is a micrograph of DNA/lipid films that was recolored into an image of blooming flowers (see accompanying image).
“Unfortunately, we didn’t win best in show,” said Perry following the meeting, “but it was still really awesome that we were chosen as finalists.” The image was on display for judging throughout the 2017 MRS Spring Meeting.
Szemethy is an avid supporter of the Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) movement, which teaches that the arts should be incorporated into STEM-based curriculums. Like STEM classes, aesthetic courses also foster the development of critical thinking and problem-solving while additionally promoting creativity.
Szemethy developed a passion for STEAM after completing an internship as a set designer for the Hopedale High School Drama Club, during which she exercised both engineering and artistic skills each day. Her passion for scientific art has been gathering STEAM ever since!
Upon entering UMass, Szemethy hoped to pursue other STEAM-based extracurricular activities and was fortunate enough to join the Perry Lab. As part of her research with the Perry Lab, Szemethy designs and creates artistic microfluidic devices. She is still currently in the testing stage of her devices but is very close to a success. She hopes to display her future portfolio of completed devices on campus in order to spread awareness of the STEAM movement, and she also wants to adapt her work into an outreach project that can be taught to young students in order to inspire them to pursue science.
In addition to Szemethy’s microfluidic work, she and Gagnon recolor scanning electron micrographs via Photoshop that will either be used for cover art in the Perry Lab’s papers or will be submitted to future MRS Science as Art Competitions.
“Through my research with the Perry Lab,” explains Szemethy, “I have gained an even deeper appreciation for activities that link both creative and scientific endeavors.”
To achieve her ultimate goal of creating art, she has been able to perform many different scientific practices, such as the photolithography process involved with the creation of a microfluidic device. As a result, Szemethy says she hopes to pursue a chemical engineering-based career with an eventual goal of producing a product intended for creative purposes.
Szemethy also plans to combine her love of makeup and personal care products with this dream. As she says, “Someday I hope to work for a cosmetic company’s chemical development lab so that I can participate in the scientific synthesis of the creative products that I love.”
To prepare herself for such a career, Szemethy plans to supplement her current microfluidic and SEM-based research with additional studies of coacervate-based research. Her clear-headed reasoning is that coacervates are typically used as encapsulation agents for oils in personal care products. (April 2017)
Detailed image caption: “Bloom — scanning electron micrograph of flower-like structures observed on DNA/lipid films for surface-mediated transfection.”