How would you like to spend 16 weeks getting intimately acquainted with a dung beetle?

The undergraduate students of the Stamps School of Art and Design class, Making Science Visible, began the winter semester at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology. For many, this is an introduction to scientific illustration.

The students received personal tours from the collection managers to see which of the myriad specimens attracted them for one reason or another. They each carefully chose their own critter to spend the semester getting acquainted with on multiple levels. The various and extensive UMMZ collections include birds, fish, insects, mammals, molluscs, reptiles and amphibians. The collections managers played a key role in the success of the class by sharing their knowledge and opening up their spaces to the students.

The winter 2015 semester marked Professor Brad Smith’s fourth time teaching Making Science Visible, a class of his own design. Smith is a professor in the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design and a research professor in the Department of Radiology. As students work through the semester’s five assignments with their adoptee, their experience of the specimen morphs with each interpretation they make. The five assignments that comprise the arc of the class are:

  • 1. Draw the specimen with fidelity and accuracy through visual observation only
  • 2. Photographic representation of specimen
  • 3. X-ray specimen using digital mammography (Smith’s secondary appointment is in radiology)
  • 4. Conceptual illustration, to explain an idea about specimen, for example, its behavior, metabolics, or evolutionary history. Throughout the semester, students read about, study, and investigate their specimen.
  • 5. Emotional response, students explain how they feel about their specimen using a medium of their own choice. The sum of the students’ experiences coalesce in the final assignment.

Smith’s experience and education intersects science research and visual arts. "My whole life I’ve wanted to blend art and science. Radiology is a visual science, using imaging to understand complicated biological ideas."

When he started teaching at the Stamps School of Art and Design, he was exploring how to use visual methods to understand a biological subject and the Making Science Visible course was his resulting brainchild.

UMMZ provides this great, student-friendly and convenient opportunity. Smith cites the collection managers’ energetic enthusiasm, insightful suggestions, how generous they were with their time, and the productive, unselfish, and knowledgeable support they gave to undergraduate students and him.

"It is one of the most successful and well-enrolled classes at our school because of the expression of interest and support, and the knowledge offered to the students by the UMMZ staff," Smith said.

"The UMMZ staff members created a rich, authentic, contextualized, and rigorous opportunity for the students of the "Making Science Visible" class to experience and study these biological specimens closely and thoroughly," Smith continued. "This could only have happened if the staff members were willing to coordinate their schedules, their facilities, and even their locations with each other and in a way that matched the times when this class was held. Their shared passion for this endeavor has made this class a pleasure for me to teach, but more importantly, a unique and valuable learning experience for the students."

The collection managers at UMMZ are: Bird Division: Janet Hinshaw; Fish Division: Doug Nelson; Insect Division: Mark O’Brien; Mammal Division: Cody Thompson; Mollusk Division: Taehwan Lee; Reptiles and Amphibians Division: Greg Schneider.

Making Science Visible class Tumblr blog