Art students incorporating science practices.

New Course Offering in Art and Science

Course Title: Art and Science in the Laboratory
STA 491L
Giltner Hall, RM 255
TTH 3-5:30

‘Bacteria perform processes. Scientists perform experiments. Algorithms perform actions. Humans perform gender and sex. The question is who or what nowadays doesn’t perform?’

– Chris Salter
Adam Brown leading artists in scientific endeavors.

Why is this course Needed? The integration of arts into science practice has resulted in a newly emerging, integrative discipline often called STEAM (Science Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). What is largely missing from the STEAM movement, is recognition that a cadre of scientifically literate practicing artists will be needed to make it possible. Even more importantly, the STEAM movement generally overlooks the existence of a vibrant and growing practice of scientifically based artistic practices among artists themselves, variously falling under the rubrics of Bioarts, Transmedia Arts, etc. These novel art practices promise to feed back into science practices just
as science practices are feeding into the arts. Due to the critical nature of the arts, these artistic endeavors can push forward the sciences upon which they are based as well as providing needed social, cultural, ethical, and intellectual commentary about the meaning of those shared practices.

Who should take this course? The course will be targeted at seniors majoring in the arts and graduate students in the arts and humanities as well as curious biology and ecology related graduate students and 3rd and 4th year
undergraduates. The aim of Art and Science in the Laboratory is to attract a diverse set of thinkers and practitioners based in the arts, the humanities, and the sciences. If you are an artist who wants to explore the sciences, a scientist who wants to peer into the arts or a humanist who wants to explore the material and the theoretical world firsthand,
then this course is for you! The course will be a one semester introduction to laboratory science through a set of conceptual, technical and analytical experiments, tools and research practices geared to enable novel artistic practices. The value of the course
will be four-fold: 1) to demonstrate ways in which current art practices have emerged from appropriation and transformation of scientific methods and materials; 2) to open new artistic possibilities; 3) to create through shared practices, a common ground between sciences and arts that benefits both disciplines; 4) to motivate the next
generation of artists to explore, exploit, and expand this common ground.
Art and Science in the Laboratory will be a radically interdisciplinary, hands on, and use experiential-based learning modalities. To accomplish these goals the course begins with a series of reenactments of a few pivotal scientific experiments. Students will repeat versions of these experiments to learn bench practices of modern science that are
currently employed by cutting edge artists. Later in the course, students will be encouraged to rethink and reconceptualize these experiments using critical artistic practice to explore new possibilities.

For more information, inquiries or enrollment please contact Professor Adam Brown:

artist drawing from skull still life

Giraffe Skulls and Graphite Pencils

Recently comparative anatomy students at Michigan State University found themselves in a room with art graduate students and other members of the community participating in a new series of activities promoting the intersection of arts and sciences. Specimens from the MSU Museum were on loan and displayed for an open drawing session where both artists and scientists could hone their skills in observation and representation. Skulls of a giraffe, rhinoceros, and others combined with study skins and stuffed birds and skeletons to create a macabre scene…or if you are a science nerd, a “haven of coolness.”

photo taken by Terri McElhinny

These are typical sights for a comparative anatomy student, but not necessarily for art students; similarly trying to represent a still life is more in the wheelhouse of the artist than a scientist. However, both groups count observation as one of the primary skills in their respective fields. The question “How can artists and scientists learn from each other to improve their skills?” is the impetus behind a new set of activities being promoted on MSU’s campus. The connection and impacts between art and science has been explored and reported on by MSU’s own Dr. Robert Root Bernstein, where he has explored among other ideas, how arts avocations may foster success in scientists. (Root-Bernstein et al, 2008). 

photo taken by Terri McElhinny

The session was led by Ben Duke, Associate Professor in Art, Art History, and Design, and Terri McElhinny, Associate Professor of Integrative Biology. Dr. McElhinny teaches IBIO 328: Comparative Anatomy and Biology of the Vertebrates, a course that includes a laboratory in which students conduct a comparative study of anatomy by dissecting a lamprey, shark, frog, and cat. She says, “Oftentimes students are laser-focused on recognizing and naming individual structures on their specimens like the orbit of the eye or the zygomatic arch (cheekbone). This event allowed us to step back and spend time appreciating the whole form of a specimen in a different way. Additionally, cognitive psychologists have demonstrated that drawing can enhance learning (Fernandes et al 2018). Participating in this event has me thinking about how to incorporate drawing as part of our lab activities in the future.” 

photo taken by Terri McElhinny

In addition to future drawing sessions, the group has discussed field trips to do nature journaling, working with specialized equipment such as Scanning Electron Microscopes (SEM) to create artistic images, ‘drawing’ with microbes on petri dishes, and translating microscope views into meaningful images.

To be informed of future events, please feel free to use our sign up form.  


Fernandes, MA, JD Wammes, ME Meade. “The Surprisingly Powerful Influence of Drawing on Memory”. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 27.5 (2018): 302-308.

Root-Bernstein, Robert, et al. “Arts foster scientific success: avocations of nobel, national academy, royal society, and sigma xi members.” Journal of Psychology of Science and Technology 1.2 (2008): 51-63.

photo taken by Terri McElhinny

Art and Science Film Festival Hosted by MSU Museum

MSU Museum Collaborates on a New Outdoor Film Series
Exploring Humankind’s Understanding of the World

After two years of social distancing and other precautions due to the ongoing pandemic, the MSU Museum is pleased to bring the local community together in an outdoor public setting for an exciting new films series that will entertain, enlighten, and illuminate minds.

– MSU Museum

Visit MSU Museum film series website.