Norris Center Science and Art Residency Program

The goal of the Science and Art Residency program is to fund and support creative communication opportunities for science research, and student artist professional development.

Below are descriptions of past projects completed through the Science Art Residency program.

Finding Nemo Through a Queer Lens: This Time With the Correct Biology

By: Paloma Medina (PhD Student, Biomolecular Engineering) and Jessie Kendall-Bar (PhD Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology)

Nemo chatting with two fishes.Finding Marla is a reimagination of Finding Nemo through a Queer lens. In reality and off the big screen, clownfish like Nemo and Marlin are sequential hermaphrodites and transform from male to female when the matriarch of their colony is removed, such as by death. Once Nemo’s Mother had left, Marlin, being the next biggest fish in the colony, would have transitioned to become the female matriarch. Through this residency, Ms.Medina and Ms.Kendall-Bar worked together to create the text and illustrations for the picture book Finding Marla. This book showcases the sexual diversity of the clownfish and gender diversity in nature.

Participating in the residency affected Ms.Medina’s teaching and research through supporting her interest by translating ideas from my research to positive messages that many people can have access to. The financial and artist-matching support from the Norris Center supported her passion for education and outreach. She learned that working with an artist was a challenging and good practice to use words and metaphors to communicate her research without jargon.

Testing Flower-Pollinator Co-Evolution Using Printed Artificial Flowers

By: Kathleen M. Kay (Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), Rossana Maguiña (PhD Candidate, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), and Colleen Jennings (MFA student)

a 3d printed flower!The participants in this art/science collaboration explored how changes in plant floral traits shift from one pollinator group to other, a process plays a role in the formation of new species. They used the neotropical spiral gingers (genus Costus ) as a study system in Costa Rica and Peru. In this plant group, hummingbird pollination has evolved independently from orchid bee pollination many times over a couple million years. Flowers pollinated by orchid bees and hummingbirds differ in several floral traits, such as flower length, the presence of landing platform, the presence of visually contrasting nectar guides and flower color. The goal was to determine which of these traits attract or deter bees versus hummingbirds in order to understand how natural selection by those pollinator types could drive these pollinator shifts and cause speciation.

To answer this question, Dr. Kay and doctoral student Rossana Maguiña worked with Ms. Jennings to manipulate the floral traits of 3-D printed artificial flowers to quantify pollinator responses. Ms. Jennings designed and printed the artificial flowers that individually alter traits, such as the flower length, the presence/absence of a landing platform, the presence/absence of nectar guides, and the pale versus red overall color. These flowers were exposed to natural pollinators in the field and they analyzed pollinator’s foraging behavior. Pollinators did not visit 3D printed flowers in the field but they visit them in a cage (a controlled environment). They will continue to modify the materials used to try to create more realistic flowers to and test the pollinator response.

Illustrating Tropical Forest Restoration in Costa Rica

By: Karen Holl (Professor, Environmental Studies), and Michelle Pastor (Environmental Studies major)

A drawing of animals in a reforested forestProfessor Karen Holl and Doctoral Student Andy Kulikowski worked with Environmental Studies Undergraduate Michelle Pastor on science and illustrations related to their research on tropical forest restoration. Dr. Holl and colleagues have a now 15-yr long study of three different strategies to restore tropical forest replicated at 12 sites in southern Costa Rica. As the forest has developed in the experimental sites, it has become increasingly difficult to represent the changes in forest structure through photographs. For this residency, Ms. Pastor created three products: 1. a graphical pen-drawing abstract of vegetation recovery at the sites, which is posted online at the journal Applied Vegetation Science; 2. Three color drawings illustrating their restoration treatments after 15 years. 3. A pen and ink drawing of the insect-trophic cascade system of graduate student Andy Kulikowski. All these drawings are being used in talks and scientific papers.

Participating in the residency affected Dr. Holl’s perception of her restoration sites. She would quickly describe to Ms. Pastor what she wanted to emphasize in the plots. The initial sketches were often quite different than how Dr. Holl saw the system, prompting her to go back and look more carefully and consider how her particular perspective made her look at things.

The residency helped the researchers to communicate a complex system to a general audience. Their restoration plots are shaded and are large enough that a single photograph doesn't illustrate all the characteristics of the system. The slightly stylized drawings allowed them to emphasize certain characteristics that would be difficult to see in the photo such as the straight lines of trees in their plantation restoration treatment vs. the much more heterogeneous trees in the natural recovery treatment. They could also illustrate a representative number and types of birds in the forest, which they’d never get in a single photo.

Joshua Tree Symbiosis in Stop-Motion Animation

By: Juniper Harrower (PhD Candidate, Environmental Studies), and Grace Ackles (Anthropology major)

Stop motion still image of an animated human sitting under a Joshua Tree

For this art/science collaboration, Ms. Harrower has translated her doctoral research into a narrative for stop motion animation. Joshua trees are under threat from climate change. Her ecological research focuses on how the plants are reproducing across Joshua Tree National Park, and whether the plants' key symbiotic interactions will be affected by the changing climate. Ms. Harrower and Ms. Ackles worked together to create a vision for the stop motion animation based on Ms. Harrower’s research. They created a highly detailed eight-minute animation that involved many other collaborators. This is currently being set to a musical score by noted cellist Erin Wang, and they will be submitting it to film festivals upon completion. They also created a second (much shorter and simpler) stop motion animation with a voice narrative to use as a descriptive example of Ms. Harrower’s research. 

Ms. Harrower works as both an artist and a scientist ( but learned in this collaboration that the more time she spent explaining the science, the better Ms.Ackles could bring in her own ideas and perspective to the artwork. She learned that in giving Ms.Ackles some creative freedom with the project let to greater engagement and an overall better product quality.

Thermal Imagery and Mammal Diversity in a Time of Changing Temperatures

By: Terri Williams (Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), and Sofia Vermeulen (Anthropology major)

a thermal image of an otterThe goal of this collaboration is to engage students of all ages as well as the general public in the science of thermal diversity in terrestrial and aquatic mammals. Dr. Williams collected infrared thermal images of a wide range of animals at UC Santa Cruz and in collaborating zoological parks.  These were used to create thermal profiles for each species. Ms. Vermeulen helped to create a science coloring book, award stickers, and a logo for Thermal Safari, an education program about the impacts of global warming for children and adults. Utilizing her bold images, she is working on a graphic for a book cover and scientific illustration regarding the impacts of noise on narwhals.

These images enable students and the public to quickly understand the scientific concepts that Dr.Williams is studying. She will be using them in teaching her physiology courses, in public lectures, books and in scientific articles.

Whale Behavior Through a Photographer's Lens

By: Ari Freedlander (Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), and Andrew Baca (Environmental Studies major)

sketches of whalesDr. Freedlander and Mr. Baca collaborated to create a set of images depicting different whales to communicate new findings on how whales thrive in a hostile ocean. Mr. Baca created realistic images of the whales that Dr. Freedlander is using to compare how the body plans of these whales change from species to species with differences in size. For example, is a minke whale that is relatively small, the same shape as a much larger blue whale? These products will be incorporated into a manuscript on scaling in feeding morphology of baleen whales.

Participating in the residency gave Dr. Freelander a new appreciation for how to communicate his science to non-scientists to come up with new outcomes and products.

Oral and Illustrated Histories for Micronesian Reef Conservation

By: Nicole Crane (Professor of Biology), and Charlotte Grenier (Environmental Studies and Art double major)

One people one reef logo with Micronesian words belowOne People One Reef (OPOR) ( is a team of scientists from UCSC and other institutions, working together with Micronesian Outer Island community members since 2011, to advance adaptive management and conservation of coral reefs and associated resources. These autonomously governed communities are stewards for more than half a million square kilometers of ocean. They work closely with local communities to link traditional management and knowledge with modern science to better understand the nature of ecological and cultural change and their combined effect on resource management. Since these islands have strong oral storytelling traditions, they plan to develop this summary as an audio narrative, accompanied by an illustrated transcript. The narrative will be organized in several sections or ‘stories’ describing effective management practices applied over the past 7 years focusing on traditional management practices and the science that supports them. They will weave the science into the stories with data we have collected from local reefs, and empirical evidence from other studies.

Charlotte recently wrote a Norris Center Blog post about her time in Micronesia.

Natural History Illustrations and Global Environmental Change in Central Italy

By: Andrew Matthews (Professor, Anthropology) and Ann Alstatt (MFA student)

Illustrations by Ms. Alstatt will be incorporated in a book that Dr. Matthews is writing about the intersection of history and anthropology, where he uses drawings as a source of evidence and theoretical arguments. This book, provisionally entitled Plant Politics, describes landscape history and the politics of forests, sustainable energy, and climate change in central Italy. In this book I argue that a re-imagined natural history and landscape ethnography that make extensive use of natural history illustrations can help us make sense of global environmental change.