Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya was a budding neuroscientist when she shifted away from bench science to focus on enhancing how scientists communicate with the public. After receiving a master’s in fine arts from the Pratt Institute, she launched her career as a science-focused muralist known for expressing complex ideas through art. One example of her work is Beyond Curie, a portrait series of 42 women who have made significant contributions in STEM fields.
The National Academies expands on Phingobodhipakkiya’s work of bridging the arts and humanities with hard sciences through a study that unpacks how the integration of work by artists and humanists with scientists promotes innovative thinking, new spaces, and ideas.
And it is universities that create conditions for discovery by sustaining robust, multi-stranded, creatively adaptable research and scholarly and artistic missions.
UNC-Chapel Hill’s strategic plan, Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good, emphasizes the importance of promoting and integrating the scholarly work of artists and scientists. Biologist Bob Goldstein is one of many of our faculty doing just that. His research uses the nematode C. elegans to understand how cells develop into organisms. But it was his interest in the arts that inspired him to launch Art & Science: Merging Printmaking and Biology — a two-part honors course he teaches alongside art professor Beth Grabowski. Goldstein has also taken integrating arts and science to heart through his own artistic work, Gig Posters for Scientists, which are hand screen printed posters for distinguished scientists visiting Carolina. He learned the art form from Grabowski, who literally wrote the book on printmaking.
Goldstein and Grabowski share a common interest in what it means to think like both an artist and scientist. Of the 14 slots in their course, seven are filled by students who meet biology prerequisites and seven by students who meet art prerequisites. This creates an interesting mix of students who may not have encountered one another otherwise. The recent Endeavors story “Through a Different Lens,” describes how the course strengthens education by allowing students to step outside their major to do something new.
Jacqueline Lawton, a talented faculty member from the Department of Dramatic Art, explores how theater can convey health and environmental issues to the public. In 2016, she wrote and developed “ARDEO,” a one-act play about the lives of health practitioners and victims of burns. She worked in collaboration with School of Medicine professors Bruce Cairns and Amy Weil to explore how patients and doctors communicate with each other and how theatre artists can be of service to patients, doctors, and the public at large.
She followed that play with “Freedom Hill,” which focused on environmental justice in coastal communities. For its development, she worked in collaboration with David Salvesen, Mai Nguyen, and Amy Cooke, all three of whom are members of environmental programs at UNC. The play tells the story of the founding of Princeville, North Carolina, and how its people continually face the rising tides of the Tar River. Although not a coastal city, and despite being fortified by a levee, the Tar River floods during major hurricanes, causing continual devastation to the community.
An exciting new Carolina program that illustrates even broader scholarly interconnections is the Southern Futures Initiative — a campus-wide initiative connecting the arts, history, public health, and entrepreneurship — which is supported by UNC’s world-class archives and library expertise. Southern Futures aims to cultivate vibrant scholarship about the American South by engaging literary scholars, historians, geographers, anthropologists, religious studies scholars, and others that have sustained long-term inquiry in North Carolina, across the United States, and abroad.
Given that today’s challenges and opportunities are both technical and social, addressing them calls for the full range of human knowledge and creativity. I am excited the strategic plan can be a successful path toward this type of critical integration.