Since early January, Zach Wilson and Lila Finch have been collaborating to think about new ways of communicating with and about science. Zach is a sixth year PhD student in the Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (MCDB) program and Lila is a second year PhD student in the ATLAS program and a member of the LPC. Zach studies a lipid, called PI(3,5)P2, in the vacuoles of yeast cells. His research is focused on how this lipid controls ion transport at vacuoles to regulate the size, function, and water levels in vacuoles. While his research is performed in yeast, he is currently connecting his discoveries to how plants react to environmental stresses, like high salinity in the soil.
The work together has been about finding new ways to tell the story of Zach's data in ways that have the potential to create new conversations and produce new interactions between the scientist and audience. Through the process of designing and making the artistic representations of the science story, Zach and Lila are examining how knowledge sharing between the two occurs, how it pushes each of them to think about their work in new ways and/or communicate with colleagues, and are curious how the work is used/discussed in different settings (e.g. a scientific poster conference vs. an art gallery vs. a museum space). Below is a little cartoon of the process Zach and Lila went through to arrive at a new representation.
Zach and Lila decided the representational form should be lanterns with which the audience could interact with to make discoveries on their own, whether Zach was there to explain or not. They wanted to have the representations be based in data collected by Zach, so that he could tell the same story he normally does, but in the hopes that the audience would lead themselves through that story by asking him questions. They decided to place a viewing hole in each lantern where a viewer could peer inside of the lantern to get a feel for the types of data that Zach sees and draw conclusions about the relationships between the lights and size; almost being able to explore the correlations Zach has found, without necessarily knowing the meaning. Zach and Lila wanted the lanterns to be able to be used in different contexts, for a scientific presentation or in an art gallery or museum space - where without the context that these are wild type and mutant yeast cells, a viewer could still spend time imagining a story this representation tells.
After deciding on lanterns as the representational form to try out, Lila and Zach have been constructing lanterns that are based in the data Zach has collected for his dissertation. To begin they wanted to make one lantern showing a cell with a vacuole inside that would be able to expand and contract based on different conditions or show different mutant variations. However, because they also wanted the audience to be able to see inside the cell and for there to be multiple cells for more audience members to interact with, they settled on the idea to create one lantern for every mutant Zach has found important to his story, and wild type cells under different conditions. Because the initial idea was to have the lantern expand they settled on latex as the medium to cover the lanterns. Here are some images of a first trial lantern and the process.
Both Zach and Lila felt the latex did not provide any additional purpose besides feeling a bit like skin and did not hold together well, so they decided to instead cover the lanterns in paper, a medium Lila is more familiar with. Below are images of the next trial with paper which they decided was better. The images are from two almost complete lanterns.
These lanterns represent several aspects of Zach's data - including cell size (external size), vacuole size (internal object size), vacuole numbers (nubs on internal structure), lipid number (orange lights), potassium levels in the cell (blue lights), and growth rate (speed of movement of white lights). Each lantern uses a micro:bit to drive the lights. The video below shows the lanterns in a little more detail and the movement of white light indicating growth rate.
Not only do these two lanterns in the video still need to be painted on the outside, when complete there should be a total of 10 lanterns. Only eight more to go!