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From the College of Natural Sciences
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Alum Advances Beauty of Science

Alum Advances Beauty of Science

Artists draw inspiration from science, scientists produce artistic images in their lab, and people who appreciate beauty can find examples of both in the gallery of College of Natural Sciences alumna Hayley Gillespie (PhD, Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, 2011).

Alumna Hayley Gillespie is the owner of Art.Science.Gallery. in Austin.

Gillespie is the founder, owner and director of Art.Science.Gallery, a gallery that exhibits science-related art and offers science communication space in East Austin. The gallery has just opened a new exhibition exploring the cosmos with science-inspired printmakers.

Tell me about your journey from student to gallery owner.

As an undergraduate, I was a biology major with an art minor and environmental studies minor. A lot of the art I was doing at the time was inspired by use of natural resources and the environment. I spent a year teaching middle school science in Dallas—I got to teach everything from physics to chemistry to biology—and I loved teaching. I came to UT in 2004 in the graduate program in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior.

​What did you want to research?

I wanted to continue research I started as an undergraduate, into plant-animal interactions in Hawaii, studying the resource use of endangered birds in forests that had been logged really severely and grazed. I definitely was interested in conservation, but I wound up finding a more local system to work in. I ended up studying the ecology and conservation of Barton Springs salamanders, which live here in Austin.

I'm from Texas, and I can remember learning about the salamanders as a kid. ...But all this time later, we hardly knew anything about their ecology: What do they do? What do they eat? How do they deal with predators in their environment?

Gillespie supports artists in selling science- and ecology-inspired artwork such as Bison Dawn.

You've mentioned that the city had a very high-resolution data set on the salamanders, and you were one of the first to really delve into that data as I understand it.

I found out that one thing that seems to be really important to recruitment of new individuals and population dynamics is the amount of winter rainfall that we get: It's actually much better for amphibian larval development when rain falls when it's cold out. If you don't get these periodic episodes of winter rainfall, there's no opportunity for the little salamanders to survive and become adults, which also has some scary implications with climate change.

I finished my dissertation in 2011, and I had these huge data sets – all these things that went into my models – that wound up in this huge scatter plot, and it didn't tell the story very well. I got to the point where I needed visualizations. So I just started sketching. Then I teamed up with an artist who translated my sketches into much better color-pencil drawings, which I overlay with some graphic design. It made me remember why I liked doing art and science.

Science communications is another aspect of your gallery now. How did you get into that?

I had also become really involved in the Science Under the Stars outreach program. I loved telling people about the natural world and the nature of discovery.

After graduation, I started writing about art and science on my blog called Biocreativity. I was interviewing ecologists who do artwork and learning how they use art to communicate science and tell a story. It started to snowball, and people started to email me all the time about showing their work on the blog and then if I could show it in a gallery, which I didn't have. 

I eventually got enough of these requests that I thought, "I guess nobody is really doing this, and these artists are making really neat work." I think it's important to show everyone what they're doing, because it communicates science, it contributes to a more science-literate society, we can nurture more science enthusiasts, and maybe it can be a tool to get other scientists to learn how to communicate better.

Lifecycles, by John Self and Matt Norris, an exhibit focused on insects was on display at the gallery in the summer of 2014.

Are there other galleries like yours?

There's not an independent gallery like Art.Science.Gallery anywhere that I know of. There's a little gallery in London that shows a lot of science art, and I think they're our closest relative on the phylogenetic tree of art and science galleries. There are larger museums of science and technology.

The gallery supports other science communications efforts, too. Can you talk about that?

I wrote on my blog that I feel like art science is a continuum: there are people who might consider themselves scientist-artists, and there are people who are trained in art and are using their art to communicate science. Some people have an intention to communicate science, and others don't: it just inspires that.

Teaching other scientists to communicate can take many different guises. Art is one way to get a lot of people who may not be into the sciences engaged, so I approach all of our exhibits that way. They can look at the images if they want, or they can read the labels, which incorporate more scientific background information. Some people have even emailed or called us later to say, I learned about this in your gallery and then I got a book at the library about it. They can go as deep as they want to go.

Our mission at the gallery is to engage the public in the sciences through visual arts and to support the careers of science artists and to help scientists become better communicators, which we do through workshops for scientists. We're planning a week-long science communications boot camp. We're hosting a Science Art Conference, too, and we have an Earth Day event every year, and science groups from around the area come out. We're also working on a science map, called ATXScience.

Our art exhibits make people walk away with a nugget or two of science. I think every time we get a visitor coming in we may be generating science enthusiasts.

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Monday, 27 March 2023

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