It is hard to see the full picture when there is ‘story within a story’. It is even more difficult to solve a ‘problem within a problem’. The Art Loves Science Foundation is trying to develop a solution for both. Founded by two scientists, who have a heart and talent for art and who have been on two sides of the spectrum. They developed a unique way to blend art and science, such that it creates a common language and a path to expedite discoveries and innovation. Dr. Hande Ozdinler is an Associate Professor of Neurology and she is also a painter, inventor of OzdinART™, a novel form of painting. Dr. Derya Ozyurt is a Process Systems Engineer, a percussionist, a baglama player, and music enthusiast.
The logo of Art Loves Science Foundation (https://www.artlovesscience.org)
Working in competitive academic and industrial settings, they both know that being an artist is most often seen as a “distraction”, a sign that you have not been giving your full-time and attention to your profession. So they both kept it to themselves for a long while. But after the basement was completely full with paintings and the drum set and other music instruments occupied most of the living room, it was impossible to hide; they both loved art and yes they were scientists.
Since they were trained to find solutions to complex problems, they knew there had to be a way out where everyone benefits. First, they tried to assess the limiting factors and major roadblocks to success. One major problem in science was the lack of support for the development of initial phases of crazy and impossible ideas. Even though each great invention was once a baby idea, many wonderful collaborative and innovative ideas were left to die due to lack of funding and support. Many young faculty were left to paddle up against the current very early in their carrier, and their brilliant ideas were not appreciated or supported. Fewer students chose science as their path; the smartest and the most creative students were staying away from science due to lack of support and nourishment. Being a scientist was not fun anymore, it was all about grant writing, grants that hardly ever get funded, and if funded it was never enough. The power of innovation was also diminishing, as the competition was unnecessarily brutal, killing potentially useful new ideas before they can even come to full fruition.
In striking contrast, the pace of discoveries was unprecedented and the rate of knowledge generation was beyond measure. The amount of data our ancestors have generated over 100 years was now obtained within days. We were in the era of big data, large data, networks, connectomes,.. and yet the society was not fully engaged with the discoveries, they did not know what was going on in the lab, what was discovered and how it was discovered. There was a disconnect between science and society, which further put pressure on science, as scientists felt more alone, unappreciated, and irrelevant. This lack of communication also did not help the society’s psyche. They begin to question the importance or the relevance of science and either reject knowledge or pick the ones that suited their opinions the best, creating many different “alternative facts”. As scientists, both Hande and Derya realized the magnitude of the upcoming problem. So what is the solution and how could they deliver?
A detail from a representative example of OzdinART™ paintings, which allow up to 1 micrometer color resolution, without blending and generating a 3D image on canvas.
First, they had to improve the communication between science and society by finding a common language. As they were looking at each other surrounded by the piano, drum set, baglama, paintings laying on the floor because the walls could not hold up more, the answer was obvious: ART !! Art had such immense power that it connected everything in the world. The music, the colors, the feeling was naturally engraved in everyone. If they could emphasize ART as a common language between science and society, that would be an excellent start. ART encompassed everything, it loved everyone, everything.. ART also loved Science.. Science needed love and nourishment, and it needed support. ART was maybe the only power that could deliver. So they initiated the non-profit Art Loves Science Foundation, where art loves and supports science. By organizing concerts, art exhibits and selling TradeMarked OzdinART paintings, they decided to generate funds to support students who choose science as a path, hoping to recruit the bright minds to research. They also decided to generate funds for the early stage ideas that are innovative and collaborative, so that they can help especially young faculty to test their “crazy” ideas and see whether it works. Wow, this was too much to cover for an emerging foundation; it would be impossible for them to support every enthusiastic student in the world or every novel idea. They had to focus on their own expertise and the areas of research they are most involved in, to begin with.
Since Dr. Ozdinler was working very hard to understand the biology of upper motor neurons within the scope of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), one of the most horrific diseases of mankind, they decided to keep focus initially on ALS research, by giving fellowships to students who want to be part of ALS research programs and for young faculty who had collaborative and innovative ideas.
Many did not understand why Dr. Ozdinler would go out of her way and work so hard to helps others. Some even suggested that this was to support her own research. What was her gain? “No one will remember us with how many grants we write or how many papers we publish,” she says, “we will make our impact by changing and improving the lives of others. Not all our actions have to benefit us directly, if they help others, offer solutions to big problems and generate kindness, that will eventually find its way to us in some way”. The initial stages of Dr. Ozdinler’s research were supported by the Les Turner ALS Foundation. “I was very lucky to have support at the early stages of my discoveries. Now it is time I make sure the young and the bold are supported and that we create a nourishing environment for new and risky ideas”. It is about giving back to the community and doing the right thing. Dr. Ozyurt also believes in the importance of giving back to the community and he is already devoted to ALS patients by participating in walks and open water swims.
Both Hande and Derya believe that love of art will promote scientific discoveries, promote young scientists stay in science, and nourish innovative fragile ideas. “We need more art in science and more science in Art,” they say, as they get ready for the opening of Art Loves Science Foundation with a welcoming exhibition on December 15th at the Mars Gallery in Chicago (http://www.marsgallery.com) between 1:30- 5:00 pm. They hope to be supported by art and science enthusiasts, and we wish them the best of luck.
Dr. Hande Ozdinler and Dr. Derya Ozyurt initiated the Art Loves Science Foundation to encourage students and to generate funds for early stages of “crazy” and collaborative ideas.Dr. Hande Ozdinler moved to the United States in 1996 to obtain her PhD, but after her brother passed away due to stroke at the age of 23, she changed her topic to neuroscience and received Ph.D. in the fields of Cell Biology, Anatomy, and Neuroscience from LSU Health Sciences Center at New Orleans and moved to Mass General Hospital/Harvard Medical School for postdoctoral training. She received Harvard Center for Neurodegeneration and Repair Fellowship and became a faculty, before moving to Northwestern as an Assistant Professor. She was the founding director of the second Les Turner ALS Laboratory, building a lab that focuses on the biology of the upper motor neurons. She is now an Associate Professor and a faculty member of the Les Turner ALS Center at Northwestern. Dr. Ozdinler has the unique ability to connect and to communicate, both in science and in general. She was elected to be one of the most influential Turkish American Women and received recognition from President Obama. She was invited to NOBEL Forum to speak about her recent discoveries. She is also the inventor of OzdinART (TM) a novel painting technique that allows 3D Ebru-like painting on canvas. Her goal is to uncover the causes of motor neuron vulnerability in ALS and to discover novel treatment strategies, but she knows that without community engagement and support, none of the scientific achievements will be strong enough to make an impact in society. After losing her father, mother and sister in the family at an early age, Dr. Ozdinler’s definition for family, success, and impact has gained a new meaning. Now an American citizen, Dr. Ozdinler wants to give back to the community by generating funds for students to stay in science and by helping young faculty with their novel, crazy and collaborative ideas. Through the love of art, she thinks that scientific discoveries can be enhanced and supported.
Dr. Derya Ozyurt is a process system engineer specializing in mathematical modeling, simulation and optimization. He currently works as a principal engineer at The MathWorks, Inc. providing software solutions for mathematical optimization to engineers and scientists. In his spare time, he practices and plays baglama and also rehearses playing the drum set with his brother, a guitarist, on their songs for their first progressive rock album. Derya also runs, walks and swims to increase awareness about art, education, and health, and he supports several non-profit organizations with a focus on these issues. He has two B.S. degrees in Industrial and Chemical Engineering from Bogazici University, Istanbul, and a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA.