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AJ Damiana wears a striped button-up with a smile, her dark, curly hair falling to her shoulders.

Biochemistry PRAx fellow conveys science through art

By Ava Wittman

The newly-opened Patricia Valian Reser Center for the Creative Arts has granted 22 Oregon State students fellowships to promote interdisciplinary work. Seven of these fellows are from the College of Science, making science students the highest proportion.

The fellowship, which includes a $1,000 grant, is awarded to graduate or undergraduate students with a keen interest in the intersection of art and science. Fellows can choose from four tracks: film + science, humanities + science, art + engineering or art + science. Collaborating with mentors from both artistic and scientific realms, participants in these interdisciplinary tracks develop projects that will be showcased in the PRAx gallery at the conclusion of spring term.

AJ Damiana, a PRAx fellow following the art and science trajectory, is a third-year honors and College of Science student majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology. Damiana was originally introduced to the world of Art-Sci through the Seminarium club, which she is now the president of. She recalled, “The club was hosting art science talks associated with the fellowship, which is how I discovered it. I thought, ‘This is fantastic. I’m a biochemistry major, and I do art. This is perfect for me.’”

The introduction came at a crossroads for Damiana, who, while looking for employment, realized she did not want to be on the “traditional biochemistry trajectory.” She elaborated, “I was searching for internships, but I didn’t want to pursue a medical career. That’s when I stumbled upon science communication, which captivated me.”

Science communication involves translating complex scientific concepts into various mediums accessible to the public. This approach formed the foundation of Damiana's project.

“It’s in an abstract state right now, but essentially, I want to communicate how cells age in a way that resonates with all audiences — not just the scientific community — using visuals and writing," she said. The inspiration for her project, with mentorship from Alysia Vrailas-Mortimer and David Maddison, is using science communication as a tool to “fill the gap between what I know and what others don’t.” Through this experience, Damiana has discovered her passion for involving a broader audience in the sciences, making it more accessible to those “not inherently connected” to the hard sciences.

“I feel there’s a focus on hard sciences and this idea that everyone should understand it immediately. Being someone in the sciences, I’ve realized what captivates me might not be universal. I’m trying to make scientific topics engaging for more people,” she said.

Embracing the interdisciplinary nature of her work in science communication, Damiana advocates for the interconnectedness of different academic fields. “I don’t think that there’s enough communication between disciplines, despite the potential benefits. Over the course of this project, I’ve learned how much can be gained from bridging these avenues. Disciplines shouldn’t be as segregated as they currently are.”

This interdisciplinary ethos is at the center of PRAx’s mission to further both the worlds of science through art and the world of art through science — a perspective shared by all of the PRAx fellows.

Read about other exceptional PRAx fellows here.