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Nature, Humanity Collide in Student's Science-based Art

Julia Sacha '17Julia Sacha '17 drew more than knowledge from a "Biodiversity and Conservation Biology" course with Assistant Professor Kevin Smith-she took from the class inspiration that would find its expression in works of art.

"What struck me most was the complexity of nature," she said. "Nothing is as simple as you think it is. The more I've learned about biology, the more I realize how much there is to learn."

Sacha, a biology major planning to become a physician's assistant, also has a strong interest in studio art. Last semester she blended her interests to create three oil paintings that represent her new understanding from Smith's class of the complex, unintended consequences of human actions on the natural world.

The central figure on one of her paintings, which is as yet untitled, was an accurate rendering of the molecular structure of amoxicillin, an antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease.

The figure is projected on a busy, abstract background built from several layers of paint, suggesting the complexity of means through which the disease has spread in a world that is constantly being altered by human activity. She learned in class that development of land by humans leads to fragmentation of animal habitats. That reduces species diversity and decreases the number of predators of white-footed mice in an area. The mice thrive, which leads to an increase in the Lyme-carrying ticks that feed on them. Humans in fields and woods are then more likely to be bitten by the ticks and infected with Lyme disease.

Her other two paintings represent interpretations of biological functions. "Dendritic Cell" represents part of the immune system response to a pathogen, and "Exocytosis" represents the systematic budding of vesicles within the chaos and commotion of the life of a cell.

The "Dendritic Cell" canvas was selected for the student art show this spring, and was subsequently selected by the Ingersoll-Rand corporation in Davidson as one of about six pieces of Davidson student art the company selects annually to hang in its local Global Leadership Office. At the end of a year, the company purchases two of the paintings and returns the others.

"Exocytosis" bu Julia Sacha '17Sacha has taken a half-dozen biology courses and three classes in the art curriculum -- two painting classes and a printmaking class. She credits her art instructor, Assistant Professor Hagit Barkai, for suggestions that helped in creation of her three canvases.

Sacha has been dabbling in art throughout her life, and several of her works hang in the family home. She took an advanced placement class in art during high school, and her high school graduation project was writing and illustrating a book about Down Syndrome. She also attended an art-focused summer camp at Brown University.

Sacha is spending her summer as a Stapleton-Davidson Fellow in Charlotte working at Crisis Assistance Ministry and the Salvation Army Center of Hope.

She has agreed to let the biology department display her amoxicillin painting in its Watson Building office for a year. Professor Smith has already asked to purchase the piece after that, but Sacha is fond of it, and hasn't committed to the transaction.

"We'll see if I can part with it then!" she said.