Marjorie Prime Cool Science Installation

By Advisory Company member Monica Kilkus

Fun fact about me: before I was a theater geek, I was a science geek. When I was a kid, I was determined to be a doctor or a marine biologist. I LOVED science. I was fascinated by the natural world and curious about how things worked within it. I developed science projects in elementary school and middle school where I measured the size of red blood cells, looked at the effect of second hand cigarette smoke on the lung tissue of white mice and did a statistical analysis of the relationship between the phases of the moon and the number of kids that ended up in detention (!). At the same time, I started doing theater and found that I LOVED that too. I loved the expression of emotion, the creativity and the collaboration. In college I pursued a biology degree but through a series of fortunate events ended up in the theater department, specifically the costume shop. In the costume shop I found a culmination of the things I loved about science (curious investigation, solving problems, looking at how different elements work together within a system) and the things that I loved about theater (creativity, expression, collaboration). I had found a place that felt right to me, and that satisfied both sides of my brain.

Since then I have been interested in the intersections of art and science. Both have ways of revealing mysteries about our world. A lot of art IS science: the chemistry that goes into getting the right color of dye or paint or glaze in fine art, the physics and engineering behind the special effects that we see onstage and in movies, the acoustics of musical instruments and the sounds that they make. There are growing fields of study looking at how art affects our brains and our health.

Conversely, a lot of science IS art, as we will see in the exhibit running concurrently with Marjorie Prime in the Playhouse Gallery. I have had the distinct pleasure of coordinating this exhibit for Forward. It features a selection of images from the University of Wisconsin’s Cool Science Image Contest. Started 7 years ago, this contest invites faculty, staff and students from the University to submit images gathered during their research. Submissions came from a variety of researchers like oncologists studying breast cancer cells, bacteriologists studying mold spores, chemists studying chemical reactions in nanoscale, and astrophysicists studying nearby galaxies. The images were created using a range of technology from pinhole cameras to electron microscopes. What these scientists have captured is complex and beautiful. The images possess colors, shapes and composition that we might otherwise see painted on to canvases or sculpted out of metal. What I found really striking as I looked through the collection was how they revealed a universal connectedness. A swirl of neuroreceptors in the brain look very similar to a cluster of stars in a galaxy. The delicate nanocrystals of copper hydroxy sulfate look like a spidery chrysanthemum blossom.

I am so grateful to have been able to coordinate this exhibit that brings together art and science in such an exciting way. I look forward to sharing it with all who pass through the Playhouse Gallery.