Annual ‘Art in STEM’ exhibition goes virtual

“Bottled Lightning," by chemistry undergraduate student Angel Chu and co-artist and graduate student Nikolas Dos Santos, is part of the 2020 Art in STEM exhibit.

For the past five years, the annual “Art in STEM” exhibition at Florida State University has provided a platform for students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to showcase the natural beauty in their research endeavors. From nature photography to artistic interpretations of scientific concepts, each piece of art is entirely unique.

Dirac Science Library has housed the event in years’ past, with the artwork displayed prominently on the walls of the main floor to welcome in visiting students and faculty members.

“Art in STEM is an important event that Graduate Women in STEM holds to bring together not just people in the STEM fields, but everyone in all professions showing that STEM is all around us, no matter the field of study,” said Cera Hsu, a Ph.D. candidate and vice president of FSU’s GWIS group.

This year’s artists included undergraduates, graduates, and postdoctoral researchers from various departments: art education; anthropology; biological science; chemistry and biochemistry; computer science; earth, ocean and atmospheric science; mathematics; physics; and scientific computing.

Sydney Niles, a chemistry Ph.D. candidate and GWIS member, said the exhibit is an important way for students with STEM interests to experience creative ways of expressing themselves. The event also helps build a sense of community across different departments.

“This is our biggest event of the year, where we meet and connect with the most people outside of our immediate group,” Niles said. “We find students in STEM fields are often busy and don't always take the time to socialize with other students at FSU who may be in different programs or majors — this event gives them an opportunity to connect.”

Plans for the 2020 exhibition to be unveiled at Dirac in mid-April were derailed when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the university to move all coursework online and to suspend all on-campus events.

The FSU College of Arts and Sciences, GWIS and FSU Libraries went to work on an alternative plan to ensure the more than two dozen pieces of artwork submitted for this year’s event would not go unseen.

Renaine Julian, the director of STEM Libraries for FSU, helped move the exhibit to an online interface.

“I was working with Zeljka Popovic, the president of GWIS and a graduate assistant in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, to plan this year’s event prior to the campus closure. The College of Arts and Sciences reached out to us about continuing to partner as we moved the event online,” said Julian.

In a matter of weeks, the virtual exhibition was up and running.

“We coordinated conversations between the University Libraries and the College of Arts and Sciences to get an idea of what we would need to move this exhibit online,” Julian said. “We brought in Sarah Stanley and David Rodriguez from the Libraries’ Office of Digital Research and Scholarship, who had expertise in tools that could be used to move the exhibit online. We worked with them to do their magic to move the exhibit online.”

Niles said although the exhibit took on a much different form than originally planned, the beauty of hosting the event online is that it makes the artwork accessible to a broader audience.

“This year's exhibit is a little different in that it will be a completely virtual experience, unlike in past years. However, people will be able to view all of the submissions as high-quality images online, from the comfort of their home, which should hopefully make participating even easier,” Niles said.

Members of GWIS agree that the exhibition also serves as a much-needed reprieve from the barrage of COVID-related news and Zoom calls, and allows students to safely participate in a meaningful event.

“With COVID-19 eliminating social interactions and creating social distancing, we still want to bring our participants’ beautiful artwork to light. The entries received this year are beyond amazing and deserve to be shared,” Hsu said. “By being able to view these pieces at home, we hope to inspire creativity and encourage viewers to look around see the beauty in the world rather than the ugliness of the pandemic.”

To view this year’s virtual Art in STEM exhibit, visit fsudrs.github.io.