Before the semester began in August, 12 Bowdoin Marine Science Semester (BMSS) students spent a day collecting plankton in Boothbay Harbor. On Wednesday evening, they presented prints they created from images of these plankton at the “From a Drop of Seawater” exhibit at the Visual Arts Center Fishbowl Gallery. The images were a result of the students’ research into the intersection of art and science.

“Part of their course is looking under the microscope and investigating the diversity and functional roles of the different plankton. They are just really cool and pretty to look at under the scopes,” said Coastal Studies Biology Scholar Bobbie Lyon, who led the project with Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Mary Hart. 

The students took pictures of the plankton under a microscope and then used those images to make pronto plates. From the plates, they were able to use printmaking techniques to create colorful prints of the organisms. 

Each student then created a hand-drawn diagram that analyzed one important aspect of the organism and drew an image to reflect that aspect. They finished the project by writing a short essay about the relationship between the plankton and its environment.

This collaboration arose as a result of both Hart’s and Lyon’s interest in the relationship between artistic and scientific studies. Last fall, the two worked on a watercolor project together and wanted to continue the dialogue by seeking to further understand how the two seemingly different disciplines interact with one another.

“I think especially as students, you are taught scientific thinking and you are taught a very logical stream of thought,” said Hart. “And artists, we are taught to brainstorm and think of multiple solutions and be going off in all directions at once. So that was what I found really interesting about the conversation and I think that the students were starting to think about that in terms of going on in science and how that might inform and enrich their scientific thinking.”

Many of the BMSS students who had not taken any art classes before spoke to the benefit of combining both art and science after doing the project.

“I like doing art, but I’m not an art person,” said Sam Walkes ‘18. “I’ve never tried to combine science and art, so that was something new. I felt like what I was doing was a new way of communicating science.”

Lizzie Givens ’17, another BMSS student, sees combining the two disciplines as a valuable teaching method. 

“As an artist studying biology, so much of my style is formed by my observation and that’s something that I’ve learned from science,” said Givens. “In turn, my science is absolutely better communicated and better understood through my ability with art.”

Some BMSS students who hadn’t worked with printmaking before found challenges in the process, but ultimately ended up with successful final projects.  

“It was difficult to try to get the layers to stick directly on top of one another,” said Jackie Ricca ’19. “I know that I put a lot of time into making the hand-drawn part and I wasn’t exactly sure that it was going to fit over the microscope image. When I finally lifted up the sheet and it worked, I was pretty happy.”

Hart and Lyon were pleased with the results of the project and impressed with the quality of the students’ work.  

“It was really great. It took a ton of time and it was really worth it,” said Hart. “I feel satisfied and it’s always interesting when you do a project and there’s still some questions, you haven’t quite figured it out, and it lures you into the next session of your ideas.”