Exploring science through art – Part 3


In my previous blog post I provided a sneak peek of the project I was working on during my internship here at the Triplehorn collection. The project is now finished! The inspiration for this project came from an assignment I completed for my pattern design class at the Columbus College of Art & Design. As part of the assignment I had to study the work of a designer that I could relate to and create a pattern inspired by their work. After discussions with my instructor, I chose Ella Doran, who is known for creating and photographing patterns through found objects and textures. Her images are then taken into Adobe Photoshop and digitally manipulated to create seamless patterns that are then applied onto household items. I knew I had seen work like this before, but up until that moment it hadn’t registered that I could be doing something similar.

Based on the knowledge I gained in that class and the training received at the insect collection, I decided that I would create a pattern that was not only aesthetically pleasing, but could also teach the viewer a little bit about the insects depicted. By that time I had also decided to focus on beetles.

The first step was to pick out the specimens from the collection that I would use to build the patterns. I started by going through several of the collection’s cabinets and marking the drawers containing specimens that I thought were diverse in shape and color. In this initial round I picked 50 to 60 beetle specimens that fit my concept for the project. From those initial picks I separated the top 11 and started working.

The collection has specific protocols for imaging their specimens, which involve 1) attaching a unique identification number (printed on a small plastic tag) to the specimen, 2) transcribing the specimen label for databasing purposes, and 3) adding a small purple “IMAGED” tag to all specimens that are photographed. For my project I had to go through these steps and then work on editing the images that would be used to create the patterns.

Insects are bilaterally symmetric, which means that both sides of the body (left and right) are the same when split along the center. This can be easily observed when watching an insect while it’s alive, such as an ant crawling on the pavement. But when an insect dies, the body starts to dry and curl up in odd ways and by the end the insect appears to be asymmetrical. Symmetry is critical for the patterns I wanted to create, so I decided to mirror all the images of the beetles in order to keep the bilateral symmetry.


Once I had photographed and edited each image, it was time to play around with creating patterns. I started with an idea as to how I wanted the insects to be arranged, but as the work progressed I felt that the initial design was lacking complexity. After a few more unsuccessful attempts, I finally was able to create a more intricate pattern that included all of the specimens I wanted. Each pattern that I created was done through a process in Photoshop that allows the image to smoothly repeat no matter how large the final image. From there it was minor tweaking until I was happy with my final pattern.

I feel as though the collection has become my second home so I am sad to say that my internship at the Triplehorn Insect Collection is coming to a close. Here I have learned many valuable skills that will further my goal of merging art and science. I plan to continue coming in once or twice a week in order to keep working alongside the collection staff, so that I may keep learning, improving, and producing new patterns using the resources available to me. I hope to create several more patterns by August using various other insects that could be applied to everyday objects. (see examples below)

Mock-ups created through Society6.

I would like to thank Jordan Reynolds for providing training on the use of the photographic equipment and the image stacking software. He also guided me through several problems during my project which has helped me to create my final image. Besides his work here at the collection, Jordan is a new media artist, actively creating original work to be shown in galleries. I highly recommend viewing his personal work on Instagram or visiting his website.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without Dr. Luciana Musetti and her incredible passion for insects. Her drive to share insect diversity with the world has resulted in a group of amazing staff members and a creative workspace. Luciana pushes the envelope to improve upon display ideas and engage viewers in an educational manner. She has truly made my internship worthwhile.

 

About the authorEvie Moran is a Columbus-based fine art photographer skilled in microscopic imaging, archival preservation/imaging, and shoot coordination, seeking projects where she can add value within academia. She started her internship at the Triplehorn Insect Collection in January 2018. Contact Evie here at the blog or at evievmoran.comYou can also follow her on Instagram @eviemoran

Exploring science through art – Part 2


In my previous post I mentioned that I have the privilege to be doing my academic internship at the OSU Triplehorn Insect Collection. The collection is a major resource for the scientific community, providing access to specimens and specimen data, and now the collection and the people here are also helping me advance my art. This experience has been nothing short of amazing. The best part of the internship is getting a lot of hands‐on experience that not only taught me about insects but also helped me to improve my personal creative process.

My journey started about a year ago when I decided to explore my interest in merging art and science, but I had no clear idea how. I started experimenting with an old light microscope that had been donated to CCAD 5 years ago.

I started out by creating slides of myself in order to explore a new way of creating a self‐portrait. Within the early stages of experimentation I chose to examine my own makeup foundation and how it interacted with objects from my everyday life, such as photographing the makeup left on a tissue, the interaction of my saliva and lip‐gloss on the leaf of my favorite plant, or even gathering pus from a pimple and combining an eyelash that I had plucked out. What I discovered was a world filled with vibrant colors and textures. From that point forward I have been inspired to keep exploring the human form through this new lens, one where you could view the smaller components that make up the person we are, something that I call our “smaller selves.” I’ve had countless ideas of images I wanted to create but there were a few bumps along the way.

The equipment I was using wasn’t intended to produce high quality images that could be printed out on large sheets of paper. Taking photos with the old microscope took a long time and editing them together to produce a final image took even longer.

Hang Nail (2016) was created by combining 15 images into one, taking nearly 4 hours to complete.

At high magnification a light microscope can only focus on one small section of a three dimensional specimen at a time. To gather all the information needed to create a whole image that was in focus could take anywhere from 10 to 200 photos depending on depth and area. I then had to bring all the images into Photoshop and stack all sections together by hand in order to create a final image that was in focus. It took massive amounts of time to make sure everything was done right.

Getting hands‐on experience at the OSU Triplehorn Collection has proven to be very helpful. After training (I had to learn how to use the equipment AND how to handle the fragile museum specimens), I was allowed access to a microscopic imaging system complete with a canon 5D, LED lighting, motorized focus control, stand/stage. I was also introduced to image stacking software. What a revelation! The work that previously would take me days to complete in order to produce a single in‐focus high resolution image could now be done in a matter of minutes.

The automated motorized focus control is genius! It allows me set a high and a low point between which photos of the specimen will be taken, and then to set the interval between each photo as well. Once that’s done, with a push of a button the software proceeds to take multiple photos moving from the higher to the lower set points in the predefined installments. I can then import the entire set of photos into the image stacking software which combines them to create one in‐focus image. I can now create several images in a day versus one image every 2‐4 days.

 

Another reason I am interested in the collection is the insects. Their diversity is astounding! The collection is made up of millions of insect specimens, varying greatly in size, color, texture, and form. I never know what I am going to find or learn next. The crazy part is that this collection (and any collection really!), is nowhere near close to owning every single species of insects.

One of my favorite specimens from the Carabidae family.

Although I admire every new insect that I see, I find myself drawn to the
smaller specimens. At first these specimens appear kind of boring since the vast majority of them are small and brown. But once you place them under the microscope then you can really see what makes them unique: microscopic hairs, color patterns, eye structure, etc.. The level of detail that can be seen under the microscope can be overwhelming to someone with an untrained eye, like me, but these microscopic details help entomologists determine which species of insect they have at hand. Sometimes it all comes down to an extra hair or bump on the head.

Through these recent experiences here at the collection and at CCAD I have been inspired to find a new way of merging photography and science. For my internship project I decided to create a poster‐sized pattern that gives the observer the opportunity to explore insect diversity in a creative way. I will also include information on the names of the insects, both scientific and common, origin, and the date they were collected for people who wish to learn more. I already have a couple of sample mock‐ups that illustrate the concept and show where I am heading.

I have a lot more I want to say and show within my next blog post! But for now you can always follow me on Instagram (@eviemoran) to keep up with progress pictures and all of the cool insects I have chosen to use in my project.

 

Some insects have an astonishing iridescent or gold shimmer, their body seems to mimic jewels. Observing those particular types of specimens in person is an experience that can’t be explained, but I’ll try and photograph it.

I would also like to acknowledge Jordan Reynolds, who works here at the collection and has instructed me on how to handle the equipment within the lab and provided a sounding board for creative ideas. But of course none of this would have been possible without my supervisor, Dr. Luciana Musetti, who accepted me as one of the labs own members and has opened my eyes even wider to the world of insects through her never ending passion to learn and see more.

 

About the authorEvie Moran is a Columbus-based fine art photographer skilled in microscopic imaging, archival preservation/imaging, and shoot coordination, seeking projects where she can add value within academia. She started her internship at the Triplehorn Insect Collection in January 2018. Contact Evie here at the blog or at evievmoran.com.

Researching Pelecinids – Part 6

Last year I chronicled my experience researching Pelecinus polyturator in Dr. Norman Johnson’s lab. This research journey included learning the biology and behavior of P. polyturator, photographing specimens, collecting in town using Malaise traps, extracting DNA and amplifying it using polymerase chain reaction (PCR), learning the importance of literature reviews, and trying to collect live adults at Zaleski State Forest. Take a look at my previous blog posts to know more about these topics and catch up on my research so far.

author using laptop

The author analyzes DNA sequences using the Sequencher software

Over the last six months I continued working on my research, and now I have several exciting updates to share. While I took a hiatus from the lab in autumn semester to focus on my academic coursework, the research process did not stop. The DNA we extracted was sent out to be  commercially sequenced. Once I returned in spring semester, it was a matter of assembling those sequences and performing phylogenetic analysis before we could start drawing conclusions.

The focus of our study was the sex ratio variation between northern and southern populations of P. polyturator. Using molecular techniques we amplified sequences of the cox1 gene, which can be used as a genetic barcode to differentiate species. Additionally, we amplified the ftsZ gene in Wolbachia, an intracellular symbiotic bacterium that can effect sex ratio in insects. We suspected that if different strains of Wolbachia were present in the different P. polyturator populations, this could be a contributor of the observed sex ratio variation.

The Wolbachia turned out to be nearly identical from every locality sampled. On the other hand, the cox1 gene varied greatly between the northern and southern populations, and even between different localities of the southern population. From this information we concluded that the Wolbachia strain was not a direct cause of the sex ratio variation. The differences in the cox1 gene, however, suggested that there may be speciation occurring between the northern and southern populations.

Doing the research and analyzing the results was only a part of the process. Science is a collaborative endeavor, and it is important for a scientist to be able to communicate the results and ideas to others in a clear and concise way.

On March 1, I had the opportunity to present my research at the CFAES Undergraduate Research Forum. This is an event where students within the CFAES (that stands for College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences) can showcase their research to other students and faculty, as well as a panel of judges. This forum attracts a wide audience of people from many different scientific disciplines and backgrounds. It is a great opportunity to interact with people who may not be familiar with entomology or molecular genetics. At first I was nervous to talk about my research, but it ended up being surprisingly fun to answer people’s questions. I even had a female P. polyturator specimen to show visitors, courtesy of Dr. Luciana Musetti and the Triplehorn Insect Collection.

Designing and presenting the poster was a great experience for me. I quickly learned that designing a poster is much different from writing a traditional scientific paper. Both formats are separated into similar sections such as an introduction, methods, results, and conclusions. A poster, however, has space constraints and must be attractive to a general audience. Large blocks of text typical of papers are unattractive and intimidating on posters. Overall, readability is the most important trait of a good research poster. The font should be large and easy to read, and everything should be spatially organized in a logical manner.

author and research advisor with poster

The author and her research advisor, Dr. Norman Johnson, stand in front of the research poster at the CFAES Research Forum.

author explaining research

The author explains her research to entomologist Dr. Megan Meuti

Presenting my poster at this research forum was a great preparatory experience for the upcoming Denman Undergraduate Research Forum. Because most of the research within CFAES was focused on agriculture and food science, I gained experience speaking to people unfamiliar with the topics of my research. The Denman will feature an even more diverse array of students and faculty, from business to chemistry to art, so I will need to be prepared to explain my research to those completely unfamiliar with entomology or molecular work. I will also be revising my poster using suggestions from the judges of the CFAES forum.

If you would like to learn more about my research project, as well as the research of other hardworking undergraduates, stop by the Denman in the Archie Griffin Grand Ballroom of the Ohio Union on Tuesday, April 3. I will be displaying my poster from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm, and I would love to see you there!


About the Author: Hannah McKenzie is an undergraduate entomology major at the Ohio State University. She currently works as a curatorial assiatnt at the Triplehorn Insect Collection and is greatly enjoying her undergraduate research project on Pelecinus wasps.

A gift today makes a big impact.


Good morning! The annual Ohio State Day of Giving started early today (2/28) and will go until noon tomorrow (3/1). On this day Buckeyes from all over the world come together to show their #BuckeyeLove by making a gift to the activities and programs that matter most to them.

A contribution to the Friends of the C. A. Triplehorn Insect Collection Fund #314967 today will help us continue our educational & outreach programs, from creating new insect displays to offering free guided tours to our community to providing research internships and training opportunities for high school and undergraduate students. Our staff is small, but we are passionate and mighty dedicated to our work.

Any size contribution will be of help. To make a gift now you may go directly to the collection’s fund.  Or go to the collection’s Facebook page & push the ‘Donate’ button.


Student training and outreach to the community are integral parts of our core mission.

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There are several options to multiply the impact of a gift thanks to matching opportunities provided by donors. If taking advantage of those options, please remember to add the collection’s fund number (314967) in the appropriate field to ensure your gift is designated appropriately.

Have a great day! And thank you for your generous support!


About the Author: Luciana Musetti (Dr. Lu) is the Curator of the Triplehorn Insect Collection. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Exploring science through art


Micro photography of my lipstick.

Micro photography of my lipstick.

For the past year, I have been exploring different ways to incorporate science into my photographs. I have always wanted to bridge the gap between science and art so that viewers of all ages can experience a new form of art. I have dreamt of recreating the viewer’s childhood curiosity so that they leave feeling amazed, inspired, and curious once again. Some of my most recent work has been created by making various assortments of slides taken from my own body, such as saliva, zits, hangnails and much more. Each created slide is a self portrait of me on a smaller scale or what I like to call my smaller self. The slides are then viewed and photographed under a microscope. Each image taken can be built up of about 50 to 200 photos that are combined together using Adobe Photoshop.

But where exactly does this all fit in with the Ohio State University’s Triplehorn Insect Collection? In spring 2017 I attended Columbus College of Art and Design’s (CCAD) Biodiversity class. I was lucky to have attended that class when I did because soon after it was dissolved. As part of the class we took a tour of the Triplehorn collection. I was overflowing with excitement! At that time I had only gotten to see a small fraction of what the collection had to offer but it was enough to get me hooked. When it came time to leave I was feeling unfulfilled, the hour we had spent there didn’t seem like it would have been enough. As my classmates and I were collecting our belongings to head out the door someone had mentioned that they also take in interns to help photograph specimens. Hearing that was both extremely exciting and terrifying.

I knew I wanted to help out and be a part of the great things that were happening at the collection but I had also immediately started to doubt myself. I had started to think that I wouldn’t have be a good fit only because I did not have any background experience in entomology. With encouragement from some friends I took the time to look over my completed credits at CCAD. I found out that I had completed all the major photo courses required for me to graduate but I still had extracurricular credit that needed to be completed. Instead of filling my free time with classes that didn’t fit my career path I decided to try and spend it at the collection. With the information I had gathered from my class visit I reached out to the Curator, Dr. Luciana Musetti, who responded to my email almost immediately. Plans were then made to meet up within the week and before I knew it, I was accepted as an intern.

I have already started to work with both macro and microscopic photographs which just so happens to be right up my alley considering this has been where my artwork has been heading. On my second week here I had the chance to photograph a feather-wing beetle, one of the smallest beetles in the world. To the human eye the beetle looks nothing more than the tiniest of speck of dust, but once the beetle was placed under the microscope I could see the silver facets that make up the eyes and that its body was completely covered with hair. But the most amazing part about the beetle was its wings. The wings looked nearly identical to a bird’s feathers, hence the common name, featherwing (or featherwinged) beetles (family Ptiliidae)

Featherwing beetle image work in progress.

Featherwing beetle image work in progress.

This experience has been the perfect opportunity for me since everything I have learned along the way was self-taught and was always a struggle to find the resources that I needed. The techniques they use here to acquire their final image is similar to what I have been doing but more efficient. There are many things I still have to learn that will further help my artwork and future career path within the field of scientific documentation. It’s been under a month since I’ve started interning here and everyone I work with have been extremely helpful and friendly beyond all expectations. Being here is constantly driving me to learn and do more every day. It is so inspiring to be around people with a passion for the world of insects. This has brought many ideas for future projects in mind.

Over the next 4 months or so I’ll be working on various specimen imaging projects, butterflies, beetles, minute parasitoid wasps, and more, and I’ll be trying to learn everything I can along the way. I will also be working on an individual project that I will present at the end of the internship. Keep tuned to my next post here at the Pinning Block.

 

About the author: Evie Moran is a Columbus-based fine art photographer skilled in microscopic imaging, archival preservation/imaging, and shoot coordination, seeking projects where she can add value within academia. She started her internship at the Triplehorn Insect Collection in January 2018. Contact Evie here at the blog or at evievmoran.com. You can also follow her on Instagram @eviemoran