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sculpture of cross section of fungus

'Research Art Collection' showcase in Old Main

20 May 2024
Andrew Read in front of art gallery
Senior Vice President Andrew Read welcomed guests at the open house and shared the importance of the intersection between art and research. Credit: Christie Clancy / Penn State

The Office of the Senior Vice President for Research at Penn State hosted an open house for the “Research Art Collection” on April 25. The collection showcases the fine balance between art and research through various displays. From cassowary bird scans to bio-manufactured fashion to sustainable architecture, these works are featured in several different dimensional formats, including digital, print and 3D.

“It’s inspiring to see people become engaged in research via the arts, and the arts via research, whether intentional or unintentional on the creator’s part. This curated collection is a reminder that we are sculpting a landscape of knowledge, where we see the depth and dimensions of our discoveries," said Andrew Read, senior vice president for research at Penn State. “We truly appreciate not only the artists and the researchers that contributed their work, but the team that helped curate, install and create this space that sparks conversation and inspiration.”  

Included in the inaugural exhibit are works by researchers and artists in the Eberly College of Science, the College of Arts and Architecture, the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, the Social Science Research Institute, Materials Research Institute, the Institute of Energy and the Environment, the College of Health and Human Development and more.  

sculpture of cross section of fungus
Ascoma Sonya Aboud, 2018: This clay representation of the ascoma, the fruiting body of the Cordyceps fungus, shows a cross-section that reveals the spores. It is the spore-producing structure that grows from the ant’s head after it’s death bite into the underside of a plant. It then releases the fungus’s spores into the environment. This traveling interdisciplinary project by Huck SciArt explores the research of David Hughes, revealing the invisible world of Cordyceps.  Credit: Christie Clancy / Penn State.

Melik Demirel, Huck Endowed Chair Professor of Biomimetic Materials in the Penn State College of Engineering contributed his team’s research to the exhibit and discussed why he chose to participate.

“We wanted to draw attention to the issue of microfiber plastic pollution," Demirel said. "The use of plastic products has brought us many benefits, but it comes at a cost. The use of plastic requires massive resources, and it fills up landfills and pollutes our oceans.”

Work from the lab of Seth Bordenstein, director of the Microbiome Center, Huck Chair in Microbiome Sciences and professor of biology and of entomology, is also included in the collection.

“Wonder weaves science and art together in a tapestry of imagination," Bordenstein said. "This fusion drives momentum for creativity and collaboration across disciplines, ones that have personally enriched my perspective and capacity to think outside the box. In steadfast ways, Penn State is the model for melding our artistic and scientific imaginations together for the benefit of our experiences and growth."

José Pinto Duarte, professor of architecture and of landscape architecture, also contributed to the exhibit.

“Throughout history, art has consistently mirrored the advancements in science and technology of its era," Duarte said. "Creating art that encapsulates the forefront of contemporary science and technology often demands a close collaboration between artists and scientists, blurring the boundaries between their respective domains. The pieces showcased in this exhibition vividly illustrate this concept."

Carpenter and Branford stand in front of art display
Penn State College of Arts and Architecture Dean B. Stephen Carpenter (left) and Daryl Branford (Right), the director of Science-Art Initiatives at the Huck institutes of the Life sciences attended the open house that showcases work from their respective areas. Branford's work is displayed, and he was also part of the installation team. Credit: Christie Clancy / Penn State

Artwork was selected to highlight the breadth and depth of the art of research. Included in the mixed media exhibit are microscopic images and ceramic representations of zombie-ant fungus, visual virus gears made of powder-coated aluminum and knit sculpture that emphasize the relationship between form, force and material.

“These captivating works that showcase the remarkable synergy between art and research at Penn State are powerful reminders that art and science are complementary expressions of human creativity and curiosity,” said Kimberly Brue, assistant vice president, research marketing and communications, who led the curation project. “It’s been an honor to drive this collection which features faculty, staff and student’s work from across the enterprise. And a special thank you to the various staff members who assisted with the curation, preparation and installation — such as the Huck Institutes of Life Sciences, the Office of Physical Plant and the sign Shop at Penn State — who were essential in making this a success."

Artwork will be updated annually to continually showcase new works from across Penn State institutes, colleges and campuses. The office, located at 304 in Old Main, is open to visitors to take a self-guided tour weekdays.