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Community engagement program brings students together to creatively approach science

A new program is combining chemistry, engineering and sculpture to bridge a pathway between science and public art.

CESTA Image

 The first of its kind, Community Engagement in Science Through Art, or CESTA, is a month-long summer program that recruits six college students from across the country to collaborate on a piece that introduces the public to the beauty of science through art.

 The sculpture, “Glukupikron,” will be permanently placed in front of the WVU Evansdale Library in the fall.

 The sculpture combines a phenylthiocarbamide, or PTC, molecule and a glucose molecule to express the bitter and sweet aspects of life.

 “We’re bridging the gap between bitter and sweet and calling it a bittersweet molecule even though it doesn’t actually exist in nature,” said Zachary Bonham, a junior biochemistry major and one of the three WVU students selected to participate.

 “We’re relating science with the human experience and combining the two to show that science has a human element as well.”

 CESTA is an outreach component of a National Science Foundation grant received by Jessica Hoover, assistant professor in the C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry at WVU, and is funded for the next three years. This year’s session ended June 25.

 "I was interested in doing something to combat this pessimism or fear our society has around chemicals,” she said.

 “My intention was to find a way to that we could bring what I see as the amazement and the beauty of chemistry to the community and share that feeling of awe that I get from science.”

 Hoover recruited Todd Hamrick, teaching assistant professor in the WVU Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, and Jason Lee, associate professor of sculpture in the WVU School of Art and Design, to bring their specific areas of expertise to the project.

 “I was on board right away,” Lee said. “Something we talk about a lot in the art department here is getting the ‘A’ into STEM to make it STEAM. We feel the arts are as important as the other fields of study in that regard, so I jumped at the opportunity to do that.

 The program gives students--- undergraduate and graduate--- the opportunity to work across disciplines and think outside of their area of focus. They gain collaboration skills and learn to work as a team in order to complete the project under such a short deadline.

 “It’s been a great experience,” said Erin Matheson, a junior biochemistry major at Scripps College in California. “I’ve learned so much about the other disciplines we’re working with, art especially. I never realized how much time and energy goes into a final idea to execute. We, as chemists, have played a large role in that because we are trying to teach them about the concepts. They didn’t know a glucose molecule is bent and what PTC looks like, so it’s been a great experience and I like West Virginia a lot.”

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