Where Science and Art Meet: The 2017 Holiday Card

Originally posted on Promega Connections December 1, 2017

University of Wisconsin-Madison undergraduate Celia Glime didn’t think she was creating a design for the 2017 Promega holiday card while doing lab work last winter for her introductory Chemistry 104 class. She was simply doing her homework.

Celia explains she was studying the progression of three chemical reactions in test tubes when she decided to take out her smartphone and snap some photos to use for her lab report. (Bonus points if you can tell from the photo what’s causing each reaction. Answers below.)

“I ended up creating an art project instead,” she says.

Celia, who at the time was considering a major in genetics and a minor in visual art, had been keeping an eye out for instances of science in real life. Her mentor on campus, Professor Ahna Skop, a geneticist and artist herself, had recently told Celia about the annual University of Wisconsin Cool Science Image Contest, sponsored by Promega. The contest aims to bring together the worlds of science and art by recognizing the technical and creative skills required to capture images or video that document science or nature.

Celia did exactly that.

“I was also enrolled in Art 107 which was teaching me to use Adobe Photoshop,” says Celia. “So I basically combined the images that I took in Chem 104 and my knowledge that I learned from Art 107 to create the preliminary spiral. I also used Andy Warhol’s 10 Marilyns painting as inspiration for how I wanted to organize my test tube images.”

Scientist-Artist Celia Glime

Celia named her image “Test Tubes” and entered it into the 2017 Cool Science Images Contest. Last spring, Celia’s image was named one of twelve winners out of 131 entries. Other winners included an image of brightly colored, interwoven fibers of tongue muscles as seen through an epifluorescent microscope; the dark eyes of a Northern leopard frog piercing the surface of bright green marshland water; or a video capturing hundreds of puffballs of the fungus Lycoperdon pyriforme clouding the air with spores during a rain shower.

As we began to think about designs for this year’s Promega holiday card that we send to our customers far and wide, we turned to the winners of the Cool Science Images Contest for inspiration. The dramatic color and luminous qualities of “Test Tubes” caught our attention immediately. Some may see the design as a subtle reference to snowflakes, holiday lights, or perhaps even bioluminescence. We ran straight past inspiration and asked Celia if we could simply use the image outright. She agreed.

Celia presents the inspiration for the Promega holiday card.

We unveiled te holiday card at our fall all-company meeting, and invited Celia to come to the Promega Madison campus and speak about her design. She did a brilliant job presenting in front of an auditorium full of 300 strangers along with an untold number of Promega colleagues watching on the live global feed. Celia, along with Dr. Skop, spent the morning with us touring the campus, visiting a few Promega scientists in their labs, and enjoying a lunch featuring vegetables from the Promega culinary garden. It was a lovely day.

This also gave us a chance to get to know this young science artist a bit more, and to learn more about her inspiration. It turns out that her interest in science is very much inspired by her own childhood battle with acute myloid leukemia (AML) from the ages of 4 to 6. She underwent extensive chemotherapy, radiation and eventually a bone marrow transplant in 2004. Her parents, she said, were also strong influences.

“I was taught at a young age to love both science and art. My mom is an architect and my dad is a dentist.”

Like many creative people, Celia continues to allow this inspiration to evolve and shape her. She shared this when we contacted her recently to find out what she’s been up to since we met her in the fall.

“It may also be important for you to include that my major has switched from genetics to a double major in art (focus in graphic design) and creative writing. I have found much inspiration to create science art because I am a 14 year cancer survivor who enjoys creating biological and scientific art.  And I want to continue to create science art and media.”

We can’t wait to see what Celia will create next.

So, like lighted trees and frenzied shopping, greeting cards are a sure sign the holiday season has arrived. Our high-tech penchant for all things paperless is abandoned, at least during this time of year, since there’s still something so pleasing about receiving a card in the mail. We at Promega also find joy in reaching out to our customers during the holidays through the time-honored gesture of sending a card, especially when the greeting is rooted in science, art… and beautiful proof of what can happen when you do your homework.

Did you guess the correct mixtures? “Test Tubes” depicts a range of colors produced in test tubes by three chemical reactions: cobalt, hydrochloric acid, and deionized water; copper chloride hexahydrate, ammonia, and deionized water; and chopper chloride hexahydrate, deionized water, and sodium hydroxide.