IU faculty combine science and fine arts to create multidisciplinary research

A molecular biologist and a textile artist may not have much in common, but both help bridge the gap between scientific research and the humanities at IU.

Justin Kumar, Professor of Biology at IU, and Carissa Carmen, Lecturer in Fiber at Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design, both use unconventional methods to connect with audiences and produce research. innovative.

Kumar runs the Kumar Lab where he and his students use the eyes of fruit flies as models to study eye development by studying their cell composition. Studying genetic mutations in the eyes of flies can help researchers understand eye defects in humans, Kumar said, because some genes in fly eyes are similar to human eyes.

Kumar and his students take microscopic photographs comparing the eyes of flies with normal and mutated genes. Kumar said he uses photography to communicate his research findings on eye development and his photos have appeared on the cover of 15 scientific journals, including the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Although most people don’t find fruit flies to be magnificent animals, for me it’s the most beautiful thing to watch,” Kumar said. “I can watch my fruit flies under a microscope for hours. “

Kumar said the combination of biology and photography has helped capture readers’ interest in his research.

“We color our photos in a way that makes them really visually appealing so people will want to look at them and read the newspaper,” Kumar said. “If you’re trying to appeal to a wide range of readers, show them a picture and they can instantly understand. “

Kumar said he sees parallels between science and literature in research.

“As you write it, it flows freely, and then you have this brilliant thought of how to take the story in a new direction,” Kumar said. “That’s what research is.

Carmen is looking for ways to use flowers in a sustainable way to produce colors for fabrics. She says she considers all of her artistic practice to be her research. Carmen said she identifies as both an artist and a researcher.

Carmen co-directs the Color Field Project where she and her students cultivate flower beds in primary colors to experiment with different ways to extract and dye colors from fabrics. The project aims to cultivate ethical and non-toxic artistic practices, said Carmen.

“I have to research materials to understand how they work, and then I have to see how my creative production can apply them – technically and conceptually,” Carmen said.

The colors of the flowers are often extracted by diffusion, like a tea bag in hot water, so one method Carmen said she is studying is to adjust the temperature and acidity of the water to achieve different shades. .

Carmen said her methods are then incorporated into the final artistic product so that people who interact with her work can experience her research for themselves.

Although not a scientist, Carmen said her work benefits from collaborations with scientists. Carmen said she teaches her students not to see their careers in black and white, but to value multidisciplinary thinking.

“Someone can give you different perspectives and challenge you,” Carmen said. “But for me, this is where life gets really juicy – when it’s you who are following a path you may not have known existed or created for yourself.”

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