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Two gray windowpanes set against a brick wall frame pencil drawings of roots and leaves overlaid with depictions of the microbes that can be found there. A placard next to the images outlines the research being done into understanding how evolution in the microbial world works.

The pair of drawings is part of an ongoing art exhibit running through the end of November at the Bozeman Public Library that hopes to bridge the gap between science research and art.

Two Montana State University graduate students, George Schaible and Alexis England, spearhead the project. Schaible — a Ph.D. student in biochemistry — and England — a graduate student in microbiology — linked up with the goal of combining art with science, technology, engineering and mathematics communication.

Schaible and England solicited submissions from undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty and staff conducting research at MSU. The exhibit has art from around 15 researchers, ranging from mathematics to biochemistry to cell biology to mechanical engineering.

The two organizers reached out to the STEM departments and asked researchers on campus to “frame their research in an artistic way,” Schaible said.

Schaible said the idea to combine art and science research began to take shape for him after he took a STEM Storytellers class at MSU, which focused on preparing scientists to communicate ideas and research to the public.

Typically, outreach on scientific research can take the shape of public lectures, Schaible said. While that is helpful, it requires people to seek those opportunities and attend them, he said.

“The nice thing about art is we get to basically ambush their space, and here it is,” he said.

Schaible said sometimes scientists aren’t the most outgoing people, but might have a skill, like art, that can help them communicate what their research is about.

For a time, the exhibit was displayed in a classroom at the Montana Science Center, which Schaible said helped inspire conversations with the students on what research was behind the art projects.

It was important to Schaible and England to pick locations that were off campus, to break down any perceived barriers between the university and the Bozeman community.

“We don’t want this to feel like all of this belongs on campus. We want it to be out in the community and I think that will strengthen the relationship just between the public here and the research on campus,” Schaible said. “…Especially in the last couple of years, with having a hard time with misinformation and people not trusting scientists.”

At the end of the month, the art pieces will sent back to their respective departments at MSU for display. But the organizers are hopeful this inaugural year is just the start and more interest can help them expand the project next year.

“A majority of science research is generally funded by the public through taxes. It would behoove researchers to engage the public in that research and let people know what their tax dollars are doing. The other thing is to just generate excitement about what’s going on (on campus),” Schaible said.

For Schaible’s own research on multicellular bacteria, he created a colorful image — which was recently chosen in a cover contest for a science journal — from what he would typically see through the microscope.

“It’s beautiful down there,” Schaible said of the world he sees through the microscope.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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