If you ask scientist/artist, Dr. Ahna Skop, what she sees under the microscope, she will say one word: beauty.
Now the Sun Prairie resident wants to share that perspective with kids in a new coloring book, Genetic Reflections.
As kids color the illustrations, they learn about organisms, evolution, genetics, DNA, and more. From A through Z, the art highlights Arabidopsis thaliana (mouse-ear cress plant) to Zea mays (corn plant). When they are done, Skop even encourages the young science artists to share their colorings with her via email.
The Genetic Reflections coloring book, which sells on Amazon and Blurb, was a year-long project. Skop, a UW-Madison professor, wrote the text, and two of her SKOP Lab students, Elif Kurt and Caitlin Marks, provided the illustrations for Genetic Reflections. The trio wants to spark an interest in both nature and art through the coloring book.
“All ages like to color now, so it is accessible to everyone,” Skop said. “You don’t need to know about genetics and DNA. Everyone can appreciate the beauty in science with the images that were drawn by my students.”
Art has been in Skop’s DNA since she was a kid. When she was growing up, she was influenced by the artists and musicians who visited her father’s art school and studio. She also learned a lot from her mom, a high school art teacher who painted, sculpted and dabbled in fiber art. Skop’s parents also encouraged her to go outside and explore nature.
At Syracuse University, Skop majored in biology and minored in ceramics. Through her microscope, she saw her future career path.
“I was floored as an undergrad when I looked under the microscope and saw all these beautiful things,” Skop remembers. “I wouldn’t have been a scientist if it wasn’t for the beauty of science.”
She also found that art and science use the same problem-solving skills and help her understand the world around her.
As an internationally-known geneticist, Skop studies how cells divide and communicate, and how failures in the process can lead to disease and cancer in the human body.
The “model” organisms featured in the “Genetic Reflections” are widely studied by researchers to help understand human biology, fight diseases and improve farmers’ crops.
Outside of the lab, Skop continues to meld science and art in her life.
“I get very inspired when I go into the lab as a scientist and I like to visualize that with my art,” she said.
Before publishinging the coloring book, Skop created the “Genetic Reflections” art science piece with Madison-based artist Angela Johnson. It’s on display inside the UW-Madison Biotech Center at 425 Henry Mall, inviting visitors to learn more about science and the genetic research done on campus. Skop hopes to use the Genetic Reflections coloring book to grow interest in genetics research in the K-12 crowd.
Her student coloring book collaborators do too.
Kurt, who is from Waunakee, uses art to explain complex science to the middle and high school students she tutors. Marks, a Madison resident, encourage students to participate in science outreach and plans to get her Ph.D. by focusing on infectious disease.
The coloring book project was funded by the National Science Foundation, with some proceeds from the book sales going to organizations and programs that promote Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) education.
Skop especially wants to reach out to kids in the Tribal Nations of Wisconsin, using the Genetics Reflections coloring book to build interest in STEAM fields. She’s also up for virtual workshops, and in-person events once COVID-19 subsides, to meet the future generation of science artists.
“I just want kids to get excited about science, through art, and realize that science and art are very important for innovation and discovery.”
Find the Genetics Reflections coloring book on Amazon or a digital copy at blurb.com.
To learn more about Dr. Ahna Skop go to skoplab.weebly.com