Art and Science merge to help visualize the birth of eukaryotic cells and the origin of life on the early Earth

A collaborative project between artist Shoshanah Dubiner and UCSC scientist Dave Deamer. 

On display from November 1 through December 31 in the Norris Center!

Shoshanah Dubiner: Artist and designer, Dubiner earned a BA and an MA in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard University, respectively, and an MFA in Theatre Design from Brandeis University. After her formal education, she worked as a costume designer in Rome (Italy) and as a designer of museum exhibitions, graphics, and interactive educational games in San Francisco. In 2007, a university course in cell biology focused her artwork on the world of the very tiny in which “Nature seems disquieting, strange, wonderful and beyond all comprehension,” (Aldous Huxley). Her sensuous paintings are grounded in the study of biology, even as their exuberant colors and sensuous biomorphic forms hint at the mystic experience. She continues to explore the science-art connection in her “Pollinators, Pollen and Plants” paintings for The Farm at Southern Oregon University and in her pastels on protocells/origins of life, in collaboration with UC Santa Cruz Research Professor of Biomolecular Engineering, David Deamer.

Dave Deamer: In 1975, years before joining the UCSC biomolecular engineering faculty, Deamer spent his sabbatical in England working with Alec Bangham, who had reported that phospholipids extracted from egg yolks could self-assemble into microscopic membranous compartments now called liposomes. He wanted to learn how to prepare liposomes because he was certain that self-assembly processes were essential for cellular life to begin on Earth four billion years ago. As he initiated his research on the origin of life, he often watched the self-assembly process and was astonished by the beautiful structures that emerged. For instance, if a dried bit of phospholipid was hydrated on a microscope slide, a forest of tubular structures grew out of the lipid and then broke up to form the liposomes that Alec studied.

In 2021, Shoshanah Dubiner contacted Deamer and expressed interest in one of the micrographs he had published. Both artist and scientist were fascinated by the shapes of biomolecules and wanted to incorporate them into a visual deptiction of how life can emerge from a chaotic environment like the early Earth four billion years ago. The result is the three paintings exhibited here for the first time: PROMISE, EMERGENCE and LIFE.

  • LIFE