Students present artwork with scientific themes

Photo courtesy of USC School of Cinematic Arts

Artistic expression and scientific study are often seen as opposing sides of academia, but the Bridge Art & Science Alliance’s pitch day aims to change that.

BASA’s pitch day, which is held every semester, gives USC students the opportunity to present projects merging art and science to obtain up to $5,000 in funding. This semester’s pitch day took place last Friday in the Temporary Research Facility.

Kella Vangsness, a master’s student studying stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, used pitch day to present her project, “Heroes of Disease.” Throughout her studies, Vangsness has examined images that demonstrate the different stages of stem cell development. This inspired Vangsness to pitch her idea to create an exhibition that would showcase stem cells drawn in pop art style.

“I will be using this style of art to depict stem cells as our current heroes against disease,” Vangsness wrote in her presentation. “Pop art is the style that is commonly associated with superhero comics.”

Ultimately, Vangsness wants BASA’s help to bring her art to the USC community, as BASA funding recipients will also be assigned a project liaison from the BASA team, which would help to make her display as impactful as possible.

“I want my work to be shown in an exhibition that allows people to be inspired creatively through art and science,”  Vangsness said.

She hopes that depicting stem cells in an appealing and artistic way will not only garner interest in her field, but might also guide future scientists’ approaches toward the controversial topic.

“I researched what parts of development I would want to highlight within my art,” Vangsness said, describing how she prepared for the presentation.

Vangsness extensively studied stem cell images in order to foster an artistic perspective on stem cell development. To determine how to make stem cells aesthetically pleasing, she researched how pop artists of the 1970s used color.

“The colors are bold, vibrant and evoke ideas of invincibility,” Vangsness wrote in her presentation.

Vangsness presented “Heroes of Disease” to a panel consisting of Ph.D. students, professors and BASA board members.

“I thought it was great,”  Vangsness said. “I was expecting it to be one-on-one, but then collaborating with everyone, hearing the ideas and them helping you make your work even bigger than you thought it could be was very exciting.”

Vangsness not only hopes to have her pop art-inspired stem cells showcased in an exhibit, but she also wants to collaborate artistically with her fellow student Aabha Morey, a graduate student at Keck.

“I want to be a neurologist and I am fascinated by the human mind,” Morey said.

Morey’s project is titled “Dimensions — Crevices of the Human Mind.”  Her project visually depicts and categorizes the different stages of the human mind and development. Morey intends to gather images, develop mathematical formulae and then use the selected images to highlight biological phenomena while also blending those images with mathematical expressions.

“I am going to work on the dimensions of the developing human mind and attribute different variables to them,” Morey said.

The final product will be printed and displayed to the USC community.

“I want people to see that math and science are more artistic than what is normally thought,” Morey said. “Art makes you think from multiple dimensions.”

Because Morey is a physician, she is confident in her ability to translate information about the human body toward other fields. However, as math is not her expertise, Morey wants to use BASA’s network to find mathematicians who are willing to collaborate with her.

“I will work with the mathematicians to create mathematical expressions that could define these dimensions,” Morey said.

While a lot of people view art and science as separate entities, Vangsness wants to be a conduit for the two worlds in order to break preconceived notions of both fields. She feels that BASA’s program is her best option at progressing her initiative.

“I want to fuse my two passions together,” Vangsness said. “They’re always swirling around in my head. To have a platform to express both of my passions, while being blended, would be one of the best gifts I can give myself.”