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"Rosalind Franklin and the Discovery of DNA Structure," digital, Hunter O'Reilly, Ph.D., 2002.

September 30, 2002

Life posing as art

by Hal Cohen

Scientists and art aficionados may disagree about eye-pleasing imagery, but Hunter O'Reilly is bringing the two sides closer. The geneticist and internationally shown artist reinterprets science as art through abstractions, digital art, and installations, known as bioart. While making a routine trip down what she calls the "wrong path on the road to discovery" during her graduate studies, O'Reilly turned frustration in the lab into muse for her canvases. "At first I was using art as an escape, but cellular forms started to evolve in my paintings." Now, as an adjunct professor of the biological sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, O'Reilly has developed a course "Biology through Art" that uses science as an artistic medium. The course outlines the basics of DNA and the diversity of life. O'Reilly also lectures on how other contemporaries have integrated biology into their compositions. For their final project, students create biological self-portraits. The class--and the artwork that inspired it--stems from O'Reilly's belief that the public needs to understand biotechnology. "I think my art helps give a different perspective on biotechnology than one would normally see," O'Reilly says. "If my art makes someone think, I think that makes it successful."

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