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Art is in her DNA

Art is in her DNA

Loyola biology professor Hunter Cole sits in front of her artwork inside the Quinlan Life Sciences Building. Cole, who has a doctorate in genetics, also has a passion for art. “I’m an artist,” she says. “I need to create art.” (Photo: Natalie Battaglia)

By Kristen Torres  |  Student reporter

If you’ve ventured into the Quinlan Life Sciences Building recently, you may have noticed 14 oil paintings surrounded by LED lights—all designed by Loyola biology professor Hunter Cole, PhD.

Cole, who has a doctorate in genetics, is also an accomplished artist whose work has appeared in galleries around the world. By mixing her love of art with her background in biology, she’s transforming the way people see science.

Here, she talks about blending her two passions, how a trip to Paris inspired her to become a painter, and why art can give students a different perspective on science.

How did you come to mold together your love for art and biology?
My mother was a very artistic person; she played the flute and the piano. She was also into drawing and poetry. We had some of her art framed and hung up around the house. My father also took me to art and science museums all the time growing up in San Francisco. So I was surrounded by art and science when I was younger.

Still, most people focus on one discipline.
I’m an artist—I need to create art. Even during my undergraduate work in plant genetics, I was always drawing and taking pictures. I became more serious about art during graduate school, because scientific research and lab work can be frustrating. I also traveled to Paris, and seeing all those original pieces of artwork on display made me think that I could turn my doodles into actual paintings. I came back inspired to combine art and science. And now I use art as an avenue to teach students about science.

Tell us a little bit about your experience teaching Liberal Arts Biology.
I teach the genetics labs, along with Liberal Arts Biology—a course I created while teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. My department chair at the time asked me if I could teach any course, what would it be, and thus came Liberal Arts Biology. I brought the course to Loyola and began teaching it in 2005. It brings together biology subject matter with art as a medium of exploration.

What does a student have to gain from taking this course?
We cover several topics, from molecular biology to human anatomy, and students can do all sorts of things. They can look at microorganisms, use DNA as an artistic medium, even create music based on DNA sequence. It’s a Core Curriculum course for non-science majors, but I still get plenty of biology students in my classroom. It gives them a different perspective and let’s them see things that can be done with science beyond just analyzing a set of questions. Looking at it from an artistic perspective, you’re able to come up with different solutions for how organic things actually work.

What other projects are you working on?
I’m in the middle of putting together an art installation that will raise awareness about endometriosis—a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside the uterus. I filmed endometriosis cells growing and dying, and I’m overlaying that footage with interviews I took of women talking about their experience with the condition. I filmed subjects in Chicago and in Australia, so there’s a worldwide component in the work. I have endometriosis, and I had myself filmed discussing my experience.

ONLINE

Read more about Cole and see images of her artwork at huntercole.org. You can learn more about her Loyola installation on the Department of Biology website.