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Nifty Fifty – Bring a Top Scientist to your Middle or High School

Ms. RebeccaKamen

Years Participated: Nifty Fifty 2013/2014 Nifty Fifty 2014/2015

Nominated by:

2014 Nifty Fifty Speaker Rebecca Kamen nvcc logo USA Science and Engineering Festival

Rebecca Kamen: Where Art and Science Intersect


One only has to look at the prodigious body of work by artist Rebecca Kamen to understand that the boundaries of art and science are not as blurred as the average person may believe. And that's the message that she wants viewers to take away from her artwork: a heightened awareness of the shared qualities of science and art, and how each discipline can inform and inspire the other.


"There are many similarities between science and art," says Rebecca, artist and professor of art at Northern Virginia Community College. "Both disciplines are experimental, driven by curiosity, detail, and a desire to understand the world and its complexities, and to make it meaningful to other humans."


Both also require risk-taking and visualization, she adds, but art is unique in that " it gives you that prismatic lens that allows you to see things within a larger worldview." A life-long advocate for scientific discovery, Rebecca, through her multimedia approach to art, has dedicated her career to helping students, scientists, mathematicians, artists and others to question the world around them, discover new ways to frame questions (or define problems), evaluate hypotheses, and present results in a fresh and exciting manner.


Her love of art and scientific discovery goes back to childhood. "With awe and wonder, I spent much of my childhood investigating the world of elements with a simple chemistry set, and used that set to create elaborate science-fair projects," she recalls. This led to a deep curiosity about how to create "bridges between seemingly unrelated disciplines."


Rebecca received Masters degrees from Rhode Island School of Design and the University of Illinois. Her undergraduate degree from Penn State University in art education began with a student-teaching practicum on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Kayenta, Arizona where the joys of cross-cultural exchange were instilled in her. She has since exhibited and lectured both nationally, and internationally, including in China, Hong Kong, Korea, Equador, and Egypt. Her work in China, for example, which began in 1986 as a lecture invitation to reopen cultural exchange with the West, grew into a rewarding seven-year collaboration with Chinese sculptor Zhao Shu Tong. "This project also served as a catalyst for an educational outreach program, informing students about the richness of another culture," says Rebecca.


She is especially known at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), where she has been teaching since 1978, and throughout the region for sharing her gift for visualization of science through art. As a recipient of the Virginia Community College System's prestigious Chancellor's Commonwealth Professorship, Rebecca has been investigating how art and creativity can be used to enhance our understanding of science.


In addition, her research into scientific rare book collections has enabled her to share her observations through multi-media lectures with high school and college students, as well as postdoctoral and senior scientists. These lectures have opened doors to lecture and partner in science outreach with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Harvard University's Center for Astrophysics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Science Museum of Virginia and many other world class institutions.


Says Rebecca: "The experiences gained during the past year have been particularly enlightening. I have identified common patterns across disciplines as diverse as astrophysics, biodiversity, chemistry, neuroscience, and visual learning. Exposure to these fields at the highest level of inquiry has informed and enhanced my own work."


In addition, her recent large-scale sculpture installation will be permanently displayed in George Mason University's newly renovated Science Building, another milestone for her. The work, titled Divining Nature: An Elemental Garden (a stunning three-dimensional sculpture of the periodic table), has been inspired by a wide range of disciplines, including chemistry, cosmology, spirituality and philosophy.


Rebecca has been the recipient of a Virginia Museum of Fine Art Professional Fellowship, a Pollack Krasner Foundation Fellowship, a Strauss Fellowship, an NIH Artist Residency, and a Travel Grant from the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Her work is also represented in many private and public collections such as, KPMG Peat Martwick Corporation, Gannett Corporation, IBM, Capital One and the Institute for Defense Analysis.


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