April 3, 2019 | Sensing the Invisible- the Art and Science of a Cell

Meghan Steele Horan | April 3, 2019

Communication is a process involved in so many aspects of daily life. The act of sharing or exchanging of information takes place between humans, animals, and even cells in living organisms. But the arts also play a pivotal role in communicating thoughts, emotions, and complex ideas through a variety of ways such as dance, music, and more. But how can fields like performance art and behavioral science relate when it comes to communication?

In early spring, a performance artist and five UCLA researchers joined at the California NanoSystems Institute to explore the intersection between the arts and sciences, discussing the idea behind behavior and communication in the cellular world. The panel was moderated by Rita Blaik, manager of education at CNSI.

Panel members and their areas of expertise:

  • Meredith Monk, composer, singer, director/choreographer, and creator of Cellular Songs*
  • Christopher Colwell, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences- research focus on circadian rhythms and sleep
  • David Glanzman, professor of integrative biology and physiology, and neurobiology- research focus on cell biology of learning and memory in simple organisms
  • Elissa Hallem, associate professor of microbiology, immunology, and molecular genetics- research focus on sensory circuit function in parasitic and free-living animals
  • Stephanie White, professor of integrative biology and physiology- research focus on social influences on learning and memory, neural basis of vocal learning the zebra finch

Each panelist gave a short overview of their work and how it tied into the larger category of communication. The panel was then followed by Q&A from the audience.

“The panel was a fantastic opportunity to get creators and researchers from very disparate fields together and make some really interesting connections,” Blaik said. “That’s really important to one of our missions as an institute, which is to foster interdisciplinary collaboration.”

*Cellular Songs is the newest of Monk’s music theater pieces, which explores human’s independent relationship with nature while seeking to evoke the ineffable. It pulls inspiration from various cellular activities such as replication, division, and mutation.

To learn more about the art and science of cells and communication, and the panel discussion, please click here.

Art in Action: Making Molecular Gastronomy Treats Using the Science of Biopolymers

Before Monk’s and her vocal ensemble’s performance in Cellular Songs to a full house in Royce Hall, student volunteers from the CNSI education program performed a hands-on demonstration on the science of biopolymers for show-goers. Their creation, an edible popping boba used in bubble tea, garnered curious audience members.