August 14, 2022


Through Education Matters

Forest ecology, illustrations and jam periods: How arts and science mix in Chris Gough’s lab – VCU News

Biology professor Chris Gough’s research papers are incomplete without the standard published explanations and graphs detailing his lab’s conclusions. To enhance the accessibility and wide comprehension of scientific papers conveying specialized investigate on forest and wetland ecosystems, Gough involves science-oriented artwork pupils, who also engage in the lab’s area-dependent investigate.

“Not all folks think like experts and not all people soak up elaborate facts in the exact way, so working with artists seriously facilitates and broadens our capacity to converse what can be daunting,” reported Gough, Ph.D., an affiliate professor in VCU’s Higher education of Humanities and Sciences. “Images can assist make clear intricate scientific suggestions to the masses. You can find a ton of value in that.”

Gough thinks clarifying science making use of numerous techniques is necessary to tackling problems he investigates — greenhouse gasses, world warming and climate adjust — and educating the community about these subjects as nicely.

Expressing his scientific findings about forest ecology, ecosystem ecology and plant physiological ecology visually is such an critical section of Gough’s approach that this slide — for the third time — he will host an art student in his lab. To Gough, the connection amongst art and science is clear.

“When you’re pondering about experimental techniques, this is where by creative imagination is really helpful mainly because most of the straightforward, relatively uncomplicated science has been done,” Gough said. “The resourceful science allows us to answer the more challenging, sophisticated questions and get to across boundaries and disciplines. I assume 1 of people strategies is by way of the clever, 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 people today feel like experts and not all individuals take up intricate details in the exact way, so performing with artists definitely facilitates and broadens our capability to communicate what can be intimidating,” he said. “Visuals can assist reveal complicated scientific tips to the masses. You will find a ton of price in that.” (Tom Kojcsich, College Marketing)

Sophisticated concepts manufactured visible

Creativity, as properly as building science available and enjoyable, is a hallmark of the Gough lab. Several of the dozen or so customers of his study team — from undergrads to postdoctoral exploration fellows — are also musicians like Gough, who is a trained singer and was a member of touring rock bands that played at venues like CBGBs music club in New York, the now defunct Bayou in DC and the Flood Zone in Richmond. Lab users usually jam collectively out in the field.

“We do not usually have to converse every little thing in a specialized way. And it really is a genuinely handy training for us as researchers to have to converse what we’re executing to these who are not researchers,” Gough explained. “We can use clever illustrations to express strategies. For quantitative data and information and facts, we can develop two-dimensional figures that plot the genuine details. Equally are worthwhile, important and complementary to 1 yet another.” 

Gough explained suave illustrations are particularly useful to produce facts which is difficult to if not connect to an individual who has fewer of a track record in an area, or in a circumstance where by he is trying to converse a concept that could be new to the scientific neighborhood.


“We really do not generally have to converse almost everything in a technological way. And it is a definitely practical workout for us as scientists to have to talk what we’re executing to these who usually are not experts.”

Chris Gough, Ph.D.

Isabel Griffin, a North Carolina-based graphic artist and VCU School of the Arts grad who is impressed by the all-natural environment, claimed she spent most of her time at the Gough lab her senior yr happily processing samples. She initially met Gough at an arts and local weather seminar the place he gave a presentation that she mentioned opened her brain to the probable of knowledge visualization.

“He shared graphics that depicted the Amazon rainforest as a world-wide carbon sink by animated wind and temperature knowledge,” Griffin said. “Another slide demonstrated Richmond’s ecological racism and its consequences on traditionally Black neighborhoods by overlapping virtually identical maps depicting the localized frequency of warmth strokes documented, heat islands, foliage density and grocery store destinations.

“It trapped with me. The minds guiding those people graphics had designed the invisible reality seen applying only measurements and shades. I was surprised.”

She joined the lab to course of action info of wooded parts Gough’s scientists ended up making use of to measure rugosity (compact-scale variations in the peak of a surface area) as very well as aiding produce info measurement elements and processing leaf litter. She created patches and a lab T-shirt for the group, representing their investigate encounter in the discipline. Griffin’s Conversation Arts classwork that semester was inspired by forest ecology with specific target on fungi and tree interactions. The practical experience carries on to inspire Griffin’s artwork, some of which adorns the partitions within 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 along with scientists

Gough likes operating with artists who have a science foundation mainly because of their creativeness and adaptability. But not all who sign up for the lab develop technical illustrations. Some, like Griffin, are intrigued in studying about science for the sake of inspiring and motivating their artwork in new ways.

In 2017, Catherine McGuigan was enrolled in Gough’s interdisciplinary Green Walls class, that merged science and artwork students that manufactured the vertical backyard garden on the wall of Ram Bikes at Belvedere and Broad streets in Richmond.

“I don’t forget Catherine sketching a tree or something that was nature centered and I was impressed,” Gough explained. “It turned out that she was also an environmental scientific studies double significant, so we had a discussion about the complementarity of the arts and the sciences. And then upcoming thing you realized, she was functioning in the lab, together with as a researcher in the subject at the College of Michigan Biological Station.”

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

“He would give me an overview of what they had been attempting to express and utilizing just the fundamental techniques that I have as a communications artist, I would give him responses on what photographs may possibly make a little much more perception from the viewer or the reader’s perspective,” McGuigan mentioned of the system of illustrating figures for the Gough lab. “All of the principles were conceptual. It was a good deal of illustrating a couple of procedures more than a specified time frame and inquiring, ‘Do these illustrations or photos make sense in context to what is taking place 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 recognized as eddy covariance. This is a technique of projecting, in this circumstance, carbon emissions as they interact with wind patterns and a forested habitat,” McGuigan said. “The measurements taken are built possible by the flux tower, situated in close proximity to the center of the determine. It is another way for us to evaluate atmospheric carbon.” (Courtesy of Catherine McGuigan)

McGuigan enjoyed the encounter.

“It was a good deal of enjoyable, a seriously terrific finding out experience on a whole lot of stages and fascinating to see the system of deciphering data and then chewing it up, spitting it again out and seeing what the finished visual products was,” McGuigan stated.

The fall 2021 art scholar to do the job in Gough’s lab is Erika Masis Laverde, a rising senior majoring in interaction arts with a focus in scientific and health-related preparatory illustration and a small in biology. She enjoys drawing fish, aquatic animals and bugs. Masis Laverde connected to Gough’s lab by means of the VCU Office of Undergraduate Research.

Pattern studies of butterflies by Erika Masis Laverde done in digital media as a part of a larger project for digital drawing.
Pattern experiments by Erika Masis Laverde performed in digital media as a aspect of a greater task for digital drawing. (Courtesy of Erika Masis Laverde)

“I’m truly enthusiastic to be ready to do this and get the possibility to see how a lab operates together,” reported Masis Laverde. “It’ll be exciting and I imagine that’ll enable me to mature as an artist who would like to make function that will a single day be utilised for scientific publications. It will be a awesome problem.”

McGuigan reported her time in Gough’s lab helped her realize there was a market for the variety of artwork she was interested in producing, these as a series of prints highlighting the features of Virginia’s state parks.

“The things I established for the lab were being absolutely specific, but I was also able to locate strategies of incorporating natural elements into my artwork and earning that my detail that I did,” McGuigan reported.

A paper titled “Forest Growing old, Disturbance and the Carbon Cycle” that Gough printed with illustrations by McGuigan was just one of the best 10 downloaded papers in the journal New Phytologist in 2019. To Gough, that is positive feedback that the additional hard work he places into visual interpretation is appreciated.

“If you want to resonate with your audience and you want people to be fascinated and engaged with your operate, it requirements to be accessible and intriguing,” Gough said. “And which is correct in the scientific globe much too. Nobody’s heading to read your paper if it really is not beneficial to them.”