December 4, 2023


It's Your Education

Forest ecology, illustrations and jam sessions: How arts and science blend in Chris Gough’s lab – VCU Information

Biology professor Chris Gough’s research papers are incomplete without the normal written explanations and graphs detailing his lab’s conclusions. To enhance the accessibility and broad comprehension of scientific papers conveying technological analysis on forest and wetland ecosystems, Gough entails science-oriented art pupils, who also have interaction in the lab’s subject-dependent analysis.

“Not all individuals assume like scientists and not all persons absorb advanced details in the same way, so doing the job with artists genuinely facilitates and broadens our capacity to talk what can be overwhelming,” mentioned Gough, Ph.D., an associate professor in VCU’s Higher education of Humanities and Sciences. “Images can aid clarify complex scientific strategies to the masses. There is a great deal of value in that.”

Gough thinks clarifying science employing multiple strategies is vital to tackling difficulties he investigates — greenhouse gasses, global warming and climate modify — and educating the community about these subjects as very well.

Expressing his scientific results about forest ecology, ecosystem ecology and plant physiological ecology visually is this sort of an essential aspect of Gough’s method that this tumble — for the third time — he will host an artwork college student in his lab. To Gough, the connection between artwork and science is obvious.

“When you happen to be contemplating about experimental methods, this is the place creative imagination is definitely helpful since most of the uncomplicated, fairly easy science has been completed,” Gough explained. “The innovative science allows us to response the extra difficult, complex thoughts and attain throughout boundaries and disciplines. I believe one of those people means is by the suave, accurate illustration of advanced scientific strategies.”

Biology professor Chris Gough, Ph.D., stands in Monroe Park while holding a piece of art produced by one of his students.
Gough in Monroe Park. “Not all persons believe like scientists and not all men and women take up complicated information in the very same way, so working with artists genuinely facilitates and broadens our capacity to connect what can be scary,” he reported. “Visuals can help demonstrate complicated scientific suggestions to the masses. There is a large amount of value in that.” (Tom Kojcsich, University Internet marketing)

Sophisticated ideas produced visible

Creative imagination, as well as creating science obtainable and exciting, is a hallmark of the Gough lab. Quite a few of the dozen or so members of his exploration group — from undergrads to postdoctoral investigate fellows — are also musicians like Gough, who is a experienced singer and was a member of touring rock bands that performed at venues like CBGBs songs club in New York, the now defunct Bayou in DC and the Flood Zone in Richmond. Lab associates usually jam collectively out in the area.

“We don’t constantly have to communicate everything in a technological way. And it truly is a truly valuable workout for us as scientists to have to talk what we are executing to these who are not experts,” Gough mentioned. “We can use suave illustrations to express thoughts. For quantitative facts and information and facts, we can develop two-dimensional figures that plot the actual info. Both are worthwhile, vital and complementary to a single another.” 

Gough explained clever illustrations are notably valuable to produce info which is hard to or else converse to someone who has fewer of a track record in an spot, or in a circumstance where by he is trying to converse a thought that may well be new to the scientific group.


“We do not always have to connect every little thing in a technical way. And it’s a seriously helpful physical exercise for us as experts to have to connect what we’re doing to individuals who aren’t experts.”

Chris Gough, Ph.D.

Isabel Griffin, a North Carolina-based graphic artist and VCU University of the Arts grad who is impressed by the all-natural world, stated she spent most of her time at the Gough lab her senior 12 months happily processing samples. She very first met Gough at an arts and climate seminar exactly where he gave a presentation that she reported opened her thoughts to the potential of knowledge visualization.

“He shared graphics that depicted the Amazon rainforest as a international carbon sink by way of animated wind and temperature facts,” Griffin said. “Another slide demonstrated Richmond’s ecological racism and its effects on traditionally Black neighborhoods as a result of overlapping just about equivalent maps depicting the localized frequency of warmth strokes described, warmth islands, foliage density and grocery store places.

“It caught with me. The minds behind people graphics had produced the invisible real truth obvious utilizing only measurements and hues. I was shocked.”

She joined the lab to process data of wooded areas Gough’s researchers have been employing to measure rugosity (compact-scale variants in the height of a area) as perfectly as encouraging develop info measurement elements and processing leaf litter. She created patches and a lab T-shirt for the group, symbolizing their study encounter in the field. Griffin’s Interaction Arts classwork that semester was inspired by forest ecology with distinctive target on fungi and tree relationships. The expertise proceeds to encourage Griffin’s artwork, some of which adorns the partitions inside of Gough’s lab.

Catherine McGuigan holding up a piece of her artwork.
Catherine McGuigan keeping up a piece of her artwork. (Courtesy of Catherine McGuigan)

Artists together with scientists

Gough likes doing work with artists who have a science foundation simply because of their creative imagination and adaptability. But not all who be part of the lab generate specialized illustrations. Some, like Griffin, are fascinated in mastering about science for the sake of inspiring and motivating their art in new means.

In 2017, Catherine McGuigan was enrolled in Gough’s interdisciplinary Eco-friendly Walls class, that merged science and art students that made the vertical backyard on the wall of Ram Bikes at Belvedere and Broad streets in Richmond.

“I try to remember Catherine sketching a tree or some thing that was character centered and I was amazed,” Gough stated. “It turned out that she was also an environmental scientific tests double main, so we had a discussion about the complementarity of the arts and the sciences. And then following point you realized, she was performing in the lab, like as a researcher in the industry at the University of Michigan Biological Station.”

McGuigan, who graduated from the University of the Arts in 2018, also took Gough’s forest ecology course.

“He would give me an overview of what they were hoping to convey and working with just the fundamental techniques that I have as a communications artist, I would give him suggestions on what illustrations or photos might make a minimal far more perception from the viewer or the reader’s standpoint,” McGuigan reported of the procedure of illustrating figures for the Gough lab. “All of the concepts have been conceptual. It was a good deal of illustrating a pair of procedures above a specified time body and asking, ‘Do these images make sense in context to what is occurring in the paper?’”

Illustration demonstrating the phenomenon known as eddy covariance, projecting carbon emissions as they interact with wind patterns and a forested habitat.
“This determine demonstrates the phenomenon regarded as eddy covariance. This is a method of projecting, in this circumstance, carbon emissions as they interact with wind styles and a forested habitat,” McGuigan said. “The measurements taken are produced probable by the flux tower, situated in close proximity to the center of the determine. It is an additional way for us to evaluate atmospheric carbon.” (Courtesy of Catherine McGuigan)

McGuigan enjoyed the experience.

“It was a great deal of exciting, a truly terrific studying working experience on a great deal of amounts and fascinating to see the system of interpreting information and facts and then chewing it up, spitting it again out and seeing what the finished visual merchandise was,” McGuigan explained.

The fall 2021 artwork college student to operate in Gough’s lab is Erika Masis Laverde, a rising senior majoring in communication arts with a concentration in scientific and medical preparatory illustration and a minor in biology. She enjoys drawing fish, aquatic animals and bugs. Masis Laverde connected to Gough’s lab by the VCU Place of work of Undergraduate Exploration.

Pattern studies of butterflies by Erika Masis Laverde done in digital media as a part of a larger project for digital drawing.
Pattern research by Erika Masis Laverde accomplished in electronic media as a section of a more substantial challenge for electronic drawing. (Courtesy of Erika Masis Laverde)

“I’m actually psyched to be capable to do this and get the opportunity to see how a lab is effective alongside one another,” claimed Masis Laverde. “It’ll be interesting and I feel that’ll aid me to expand as an artist who would like to make get the job done that will a person day be utilised for scientific publications. It will be a awesome obstacle.”

McGuigan reported her time in Gough’s lab helped her notice there was a market for the form of artwork she was intrigued in producing, these types of as a collection of prints highlighting the capabilities of Virginia’s condition parks.

“The issues I designed for the lab were definitely distinct, but I was also in a position to uncover ways of incorporating natural elements into my artwork and creating that my issue that I did,” McGuigan said.

A paper titled “Forest Getting old, Disturbance and the Carbon Cycle” that Gough posted with illustrations by McGuigan was a person of the top rated 10 downloaded papers in the journal New Phytologist in 2019. To Gough, that is beneficial feed-back that the additional energy he puts into visual interpretation is appreciated.

“If you want to resonate with your viewers and you want people today to be fascinated and engaged with your operate, it requires to be accessible and interesting,” Gough mentioned. “And which is legitimate in the scientific environment much too. Nobody’s heading to examine your paper if it is not helpful to them.”