Science Stories: Bringing science to a studio near you

Tasha Hall, Campus Life Reporter

Photo by Chloe Collins.

One of the most important skills involved with being a scientist is the ability to effectively convey information to a general audience. All the big questions must be easily answered without convoluted technical jargon: What research are you doing, why are you doing it and why is it important to us? After all, the impact of research is decided by the reader. 

Science Stories, an exhibit at Penrose Library curated by Jane Carlin and Lucia Harrison, seeks to make science more approachable and relatable. The exhibit is a collaborative effort between science and arts to bring scientific knowledge and environmental issues to the general viewer via the medium of book arts.

Jane Carlin, the library director of Collins Memorial Library at the University of Puget Sound and a collector of artists’ books, hopes that the exhibit increases awareness and offers new ways to see and interpret science. 

“Often scientific research is published in scholarly journals and for the layperson might be difficult to understand,” Carlin said. “We thought about the opportunity for an artist to work side-by-side with a scientist to learn about their work and then interpret it in a visual and textual format of the artists’ books.” 

Not only has the exhibit helped scientists reach their audience in a novel way, opening up new avenues of communication, it has also taught the artist and scientist the process of collaboration and communication. 

“Many of the books focus on our region — Mt. Rainier, the Tacoma waterfront, local parks and gardens. For the viewer, to see their community interpreted in new ways was really powerful,” Carlin said. 

Students and teachers do not just get to see a new way of conveying science, but they also get to see the value of thinking outside the box with a creative take on art. Ben Murphy, Archivist and Head of Digital Services at Whitman College and Northwest Archives, is hopeful about the power of this exhibit and its impact on students.

Photo by Chloe Collins.

“I think book arts bring a lot to the Whitman curriculum, whether it is learning about bookmaking forms and structures, finding a new medium for creative expression or being inspired by interactive works of art. Students across the disciplines can learn from these unique objects,” Murphy said.

Whether the exhibit has fulfilled its purpose is up to the audience, and Murphy appreciates the flow of questions this creates.

“I think all the pieces convey scientific information creatively, and each in their own way poses interesting questions about the environment of the Pacific Northwest,” Murphy said.

The exhibit has also inspired ideas of what science classes can do in the future. Senior Lecturer of Biology Susanne Altermann has found relevance in what the exhibit brings to her spring symbiosis class.

“I’ve thought about using the magic books for the end of my fall environmental studies class, but that’s not planned out yet,” Altermann said.

Whitman College and the Northwest Archives have over 200 artists’ books in their collection and are actively acquiring new works. Students interested in seeing these and those who’d like to use them in their coursework can contact Murphy for more information.  If you want more information on the Science Stories exhibit, you can visit its website.