The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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ChE Student Turns Scientific Images into Exquisitely Creative Artwork

Szemethy’s artwork, cells color to look like a bouquet of flowers

Thanks and a tip of the hat to Chemical Engineering (ChE) Professor Sarah Perry, who for two years now has been advocating the creative artistry of her lab student, Savannah Szemethy, a graduating ChE senior with a gift for turning her science into astonishingly fine art. In 2017 and again this year, Szemethy placed her science-based artwork in the finals of the Science as Art Competition at the Materials Research Society (MRS) Spring Meeting and Exhibit in Phoenix. Saemethy is also a powerful advocate for the Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) movement, which teaches that the arts should be incorporated into STEM-based curricula.

“She has been working in my lab for years and has done many projects that bring the idea of art into STEM,” said Perry of Szemethy. Szemethy also worked up a poster on her art for the Massachusetts Undergraduate Research Conference on April 26 and has put together several informative and creative wiki pages describing her work and promoting the STEAM crusade.

One excellent example of Szemethy’s artwork was featured on the cover of the 2017 College of Engineering Annual Report. The report described her piece as a “scanning electron micrograph of flower-like structures observed on DNA/lipid films for surface-mediated transfection. Created by Professor Sarah Perry and undergraduates Savannah Szemethy and Matthew Gagnon in celebration of the STEAM movement.”

That same year, as mentioned above, Perry and these same two 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.

Szemethy’s continuing success at the MRS conference has helped nurture her advocacy for the STEAM movement. 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 going “full STEAM ahead” ever since.

Upon entering UMass, Szemethy hoped to pursue other STEAM-based extracurricular activities and was therefore fortunate to join the Perry Lab. As part of her research with the Perry Lab, Szemethy designs and creates artistic microfluidic devices. In the process, Szemethy has developed her own portfolio of artistically adapted images in order to spread awareness of the STEAM movement.

“My microfluidic art consists of imagery rather than geometric design and uses the photolithography/soft lithography method for device creation,” said Szemethy. “My main focus is color theory, and I like to use bold, bright colors, especially brilliant pinks and blues. I am very particular about line art and spend hours in Adobe Illustrator to ensure that the final line work is clean and smooth.”

Szemethy added that “In accordance with my focus on color theory, my devices tend to have larger feature sizes to accommodate patterns and gradients. I fill all of my devices with a syringe pump so that I have precise control over flow and can minimize flooding.”

 Szemethy also explained that “Through my research with the Perry Lab, I have gained an even deeper appreciation for activities that link both creative and scientific endeavors.”

To achieve her ultimate goal of creating art, Szemethy 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 said she hopes to pursue a chemical-engineering-based career that involves both microfluidics and cancer research, but she still wants to pursue scientific art as a passionate hobby. (May 2019)