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Biology adjunct instructor combines
artistic, scientific sensibilities
Oct. 23, 2015
There's an art to science, and vice versa. That's been clear to Emily Dustman, an adjunct instructor in the Biology department at the Community College of Rhode Island, since she was a young girl, adventuring on creek walks and forest explorations in southern Illinois.
"My father spent a lot of time outdoors, and so I was outside a lot," she remembered. "I was always very curious, and [nature] amazed me all the time."
What Dustman found fascinating about nature wasn't simply aesthetics, although she's well-versed in those – she recently received a certificate in scientific illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design. She saw that intertwined in the beauty of nature was the biological makeup of those creeks and trees. Inside the flora and fauna, there were the building blocks: morphology, anatomy, functions far beyond form.
A turtle biologist by trade, Dustman's primary project outside of her teaching is working on a poster of the turtles of Rhode Island for the Roger Williams Park Zoo. Like Audubon before her, much of what she can offer the worlds of science and art is in the rendering of these living forms on paper.
She combines both her artistic and scientific sensibilities in her classes at the college – organismal biology, introductory biology and the like – often having her students keep nature journals or partake in projects that incorporate both disciplines.
"Being a scientist and an artist both, the studio of an artist and the laboratory of a scientist are very similar," she said. "There's room for experimentation, exploration, and innovation. It enriches the experience – arts and sciences go hand in hand, and each gives power to the other. Students leave much more impacted when they incorporate the two together."
Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Rhode Island's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), Dustman was able to bring her interdisciplinary approach to students, faculty and the larger community in a free workshop, "Art Forms in Nature," which touched on climate change, plant science and art.
"NSF-EPSCoR is trying to get more students interested in science-related topics through creative means as well as inform them of issues surrounding climate change," said Dustman, who had about 15 participants in the workshop experience.
This topic was well-suited to Dustman's exercises, which included a PowerPoint presentation on the basic functions of breathing in plants, including the processing of carbon dioxide, one of the leading gasses in temperature warming.
“Plants help to reduce that greenhouse gas in the atmosphere,” she explained. “This is an important topic; we have rapid deforestation, and when we remove those trees and plants, we should have an awareness of what we’re losing and of how to preserve and replace what we can.”
Workshop participants then worked on drawing and modeling plant systems to help reinforce Dustman’s lecture. She said this is a technique she also uses in her classes at the Flanagan Campus in Lincoln, adding that she tries to promote getting out in nature as much as she can.
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