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Where art meets science


One booth at Ann Arbor’s art fairs offers luminous photos of developing cells and the chance to talk about scientific frontiers

ANN ARBOR, MI – In Booth 145 at the South University Art Fair, art is the entrée, with a little science on the side. Scientists from the University of Michigan Center for Organogenesis are back again this year to serve up an eye-catching array of photographs of cells in bright magentas, aquamarines and blues.

At the “Bio-artography” booth, located on East University Avenue, fair goers will find about 75 different images of mouse, rat, fly, sea urchin, worm and human cells, most at from 40 to 10,000 times their actual size. There’s everything from adult stem cells in a mouse’s gut to human embryonic stem cells from Bush Administration-approved lines used at the Michigan Center for hES Cell Research.

There will be 30 new images this year, as well as best-sellers from past years such as “Van Gogh’s Skin” and “Rosebud Kidney.” Matted prints around 11 by 13 inches will go for about $35; larger matted and framed prints for up to $200. Those represent a significant savings from last year, because the center wants the art to be affordable, says Organogenesis Program Coordinator Rebecca Pintar. The funds raised help students and post-doctoral fellows cover travel and other expenses.

When fair goers buy the center’s popular note cards, matted prints, and framed and matted prints, they get to share a bit of the excitement scientists feel as they gaze in their microscopes at cells developing into different types of cells in the body. The center, where U-M Medical School faculty and students study organ and tissue formation, set up its first art fair booth three years ago because staff wanted to share the dazzling sights they see every day in their microscopes, says Deb Gumucio, Ph.D., director of the Center for Organogenesis. She helped start Bio-artography along with Sue O’Shea, Ph.D., a professor of cell and developmental biology in the Medical School and Kim Lim, Ph.D., a research scientist in the same department.

If people ask, why look at embryonic fruit fly cells? Gumucio offers this: The development of the heart in the fly takes the same genes as it takes in humans.

The photographs often start conversations about some of the touchiest science topics of the day – evolution, embryonic stem cells, and the use of animals in research. Gumucio says the Bio-artography group sees this opportunity as one of the booth’s greatest unforeseen benefits.

“We are not there to change beliefs,” she says. “We‘re there to convey knowledge. We’ve had some very nice discussions with people, eye-opening on both sides.”

Prints can also be ordered from the group’s web site,; the prices posted don’t yet reflect the lower rates now in effect.

Written by: Ann Rueter


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