Jennifer Nemhauser leads a research laboratory of scientists, all immersed in the complex world of plant hormones. But last year, the University of Washington professor of biology boosted her lab’s roster with some unexpected talent.
Claire Cowie — an artist, UW alumna and lecturer — spent three months in 2016 as a part-time artist-in-residence in Nemhauser’s lab. On Feb. 3, Cowie will deliver a talk to share her experiences and help spread the word about the benefits both she and Nemhauser see in their unusual partnership.
“This was such an insightful and creative experience,” said Cowie, who earned a graduate degree in printmaking from UW and has taught at the university since 1999. “I hope that by sharing this story and describing the residency program, we can inspire other collaborations between scientists and artists.”
By her own admission, Nemhauser wanted to host an artist in the lab “for years.” She was motivated in part by a longstanding desire for new and creative ways to move science out of the lab and into the public sphere.
“I feel strongly that scientists, as public servants, must engage with the community in meaningful ways,” said Nemhauser. “And many artists are already operating in the public sphere. Art and design have tremendous influence on how we communicate ideas.”
Nemhauser also feels that scientists could benefit from the perspective that artists bring — especially in creative processes and abstract thought. She made her case to the National Science Foundation, which provided funds to host three artists in the lab over three years. Cowie worked with Nemhauser to sort out the details of the inaugural residency, and Nemhauser expects to use a similar format for the remaining two residencies, which will take place in 2017 and 2018 with different artists.
“We wanted to maximize Claire’s time in the lab, giving her ample opportunities to observe and interact with us,” said Nemhauser.
**You can check out glass art from this artist in the Burke case on the 4th floor of Hitchcock Hall
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