The Art-Science Collective

communicating science through art

The Art-Science Collective (ASC) is a collaborative inter-disciplinary group focused on communicating science through art. We bring together artists and scientists, students and faculty, and integrate all forms of art and scientific information. The ASC was initially created, along with Lindsey Clark-Ryan (Art Department), to engage the public during the “Year on Climate Change” at Smith College. Student interest quickly expanded to include other projects. If you would like to join the collective to engage the public in a creative way, please contact Danielle Ignace (

project #1

the understory: moss growth

Zoe Merrell (left) is an Environmental Science & Policy major and Biology minor, and Melissa Temple (right) is an Art major at Smith College.

Zoe Merrell (left) is an Environmental Science & Policy major and Biology minor, and Melissa Temple (right) is an Art major at Smith College.

In the spring of 2019, two students, Zoe Merrell, ’19, and Melissa Temple, ’20, collaborated on a conjoint special studies in order to link the sciences with the arts at Smith College. The initial goal was to communicate scientific information in an unusual and engaging way, to trigger more creative and communication-oriented thinking across departments at Smith, and to forge a pathway that future faculty and students interested in interdisciplinary coursework can follow. After conducting research on various ecological theories, environmental policies and artists’ work for inspiration, the project ultimately became focused on investigating the ecological importance of moss and the fact that the less charismatic plants of the understory are often overlooked in scientific inquiry, despite forming the foundation of forest ecosystems. Since 2019 has been dubbed the “Year on Climate Change”, the goal of the resulting artwork is to communicate the climate sensitivity of such plants and highlight the importance of continued research and conservation. This vision was brought to life by creating a 3D topographic map of the local Mt. Holyoke. Spatial data were imported from MassGIS into an AutoCAD file, formatted and cut on a lasercutter. We decided to collaborate with the Smith College Botanic Garden, as these spaces are important centers of botanical investigation and conservation. The project is ongoing, as it is a living sculpture that encourages viewers to revisit it as the moss continues to grow and respond to its new environment.

Sculpture pic 1.jpg
Sculpture pic 3.jpg

The Process

  • Elevation contour data of Mt. Holyoke was collected from the MassGIS online dataset, opened in ArcGIS, and then transferred into an AutoCAD file.

  • In AutoCAD, each of the 19 contour layers were separated individually and then organized to fit into 32 in. x 20 in. rectangles so they would fit the proper dimensions of the laser cutter.

  • The layers were cut from ¼ in. birch plywood using the laser cutter belonging to the Smith Center for Design and Fabrication (CDF).

  • The layers were assembled using “liquid nails” glue and weighted down until dry.

  • The assembled topographic map of Mt. Holyoke was then covered (with an emphasis on the bottom of the sculpture) by moss.

    • The moss was harvested from an unused windowsill in the Lyman Plant House in the hope that the species present will already be adapted to the greenhouse environment.

    • The moss adhered to the sculpture via the use of a flour and water mixture acting as a non-toxic “glue” without damaging the integrity of the sculpture or moss.

  • After the moss was attached, the sculpture was placed beneath a bench in the greenhouse with its appropriate signage in order to display the moss and its growth as well as visually symbolize the importance of the understory and climate change research.


project #2

Relative Abundance of invasive Erodium cicutarium (ERCI) versus native annuals in the Chihuahuan Desert over time

18x24”, gouache, watercolor, and pen on paper

18x24”, gouache, watercolor, and pen on paper

In the Spring of 2019, Hannah Rappaport, completed an artistic interpretation of a long-term data set. This illustration depicts the changes in community structure of native annuals and dominant rodent in the Chihuahuan Desert over time. There is a snapshot of three time points: 1988, 1998, and 2008. 1988 was pre-irruption of ERCI, so all of the plants shown are native annuals, with the kangaroo rat below. Shortly after the 1997 irruption of ERCI, the relative abundance of the annual plant community shifted because ERCI started to become more abundant than the native annuals. As time went on, in 2008, ERCI is shown to be much more abundant than the native annuals and there has been a change in the dominant rodent to the pocket mouse. This shift in rodent abundance is highlighted because it may also have had an effect on the success of ERCI in the community, based on seed preference.

Hannah Rappaport

Hannah Rappaport


Hannah is a sophomore potentially majoring in Biology. She is currently very interested in the intersection between art and science, whether that be through biological illustration, microscopic photography, or glass equipment/optics.

project #3

biodiversity of the chihuahuan desert

Sarah Hantz

Sarah Hantz


Project description coming soon!

project #4

transitions in hemlock forests due to an invasive pest

Project with Dana Smith. Image and project description coming soon!