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Researcher turns neuroscience into artwork

An interview with Adam Baker, a PhD student who translates neuroscience into graphic artwork

This graphic, made in collaboration between Baker and Saetgareeva, expresses a human's perceptions of stereotypes.
This graphic, made in collaboration between Baker and Saetgareeva, expresses a human's perceptions of stereotypes.

As a PhD student in neuroscience, Adam Baker has to deal with explaining his research to others all the time. Baker is hoping to make his work more digestible for the general public: he aims to build a bridge between the hard sciences and people. Using graphic artwork, Baker is able to creatively present his discoveries on the human brain.

Baker explained how, one day at a family dinner, he tried to explain to his family and friends what he was working on: the increasing cognitive engagement of bias-related memories. They told him that he sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher — impossible to understand. As a response to that, he decided to draw a picture on a napkin to explain what he meant.

“All of a sudden, the others got my point!” Baker said.

This brought him to the idea of actually visualizing his research, since most people tend to respond well to visualizations (as his family dinner and scientific evidence have proven).

Since he is not much of an artist himself, he decided to contact art student at SFU, Saida Saetgareeva, and ask if she could help him design a graphic illustration that captured all the elements of a specific research paper. “I enjoy working with Adam,” Saetgareeva said. “He gives me creative freedom.” They are now working together on translating all of Baker’s projects into a single graphic illustration.

“This way, someone can look at the illustration and see a ‘research story’ that can make someone actually understand what the research is about without having to read through endless jargon and statistics,” Baker said.

Baker hopes that his efforts to translate complex technical research into simple language for the general audience will not only get more people to understand it, but also help encourage partnerships within and outside of academia to foster interdisciplinary collaboration.

He pointed out that it is important for him to build a bridge between neuroscience and people through art. “Looking at the amazing research done at SFU in psychology and neuroscience, I see many opportunities for researchers to spread the word on their work to the general public through art,” he said.

Baker stressed that this vision is not just limited to the scientific community. Translating research into art allows scientists and researchers to express more of their artistic creativity in different ways, which may not always get noticed in their scientific work.

For his future projects, Baker hopes that by using art to express his research, he will be able to spread the word on important research: “I do not believe science should ever be in the dark, and art allows us to bring science further into the light of the general population.”

  • Melissa Reid

    What a fantastic idea Adam. I’m impressed with your effort to reach a greater audience and that you’re assisting them to better understand your research.

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