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“Spanning the divide” between science and art

Wyss Institute’s Founding Director reflects on connections between art and science in new essay

By Lindsay Brownell

(BOSTON) — When Don Ingber, M.D., Ph.D. was studying Molecular Biophysics as an undergraduate at Yale University in the mid-1970s, his first “eureka moment” happened not in the research lab, but in an art class, when he realized that the behavior of a certain type of three-dimensional architectural structure mirrored a phenomenon he had observed in cancer cells.

Wyss Founding Director Don Ingber’s first foray into combining science and art resulted in the creation of tensegrity structures to model the forces that allow cells to hold their shape. The structures shown here were featured in an art exhibit in Berlin, Germany. Credit: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

“I discovered that a biological truth could be gleaned from art and architecture,” writes Ingber, who is the Founding Director of the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, as well as the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at HMS and the Vascular Biology Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, as well as Professor of Bioengineering at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

In a new essay published in SciArt Magazine, Ingber recounts the events early in his career that started him on his “nonlinear life path” along the interface of science and the arts, which has led to novel insights that are not always immediately embraced by either field. He acknowledges that while “to take this path can be an isolating experience…with this kind of life, it seems to me that scientists become artists and artists scientists.”

Ingber’s essay is part of a collection of stories in SciArt’s October issue featuring stories written by international scientists who have actively engaged with the arts or in science-art collaboration, describing how this engagement has fed back into their own research. The full article is available on SciArt Magazine’s website.

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