Research as Art

Abellona U explaining her piece “A dream of metabonomics” to the judges.

Imperial’s PhD students displayed their artistic prowess at the Summer Showcase last week. Hosted by the Graduate School, the event saw 91 PhD students submit their most imaginative entries in a poster and ‘Research as Art’ competition. Judges included Imperial academics, artists, research students and individuals who were not scientists by profession.

One of the PhD students to take part was Surgery and Cancer’s Abellona U, who created an art installation for the competition. Below Abellona tells us more about why she got involved and how the piece represents her research.

“I have always wanted to represent my research in the form of art. This artwork represents research in metabonomics in general, applied to my particular research focus – hepatocellular carcinoma.

One way to interpret the work is to start from the human figure and go clockwise. The figure could represent our study participants who donate samples for us to analyse and generate data depicted by the metal wires.

Together these data give us a snapshot of the metabolism of a person. Metabolic network is represented in a dream-like manner on the first side of the double-sided painting. Though seemingly abstract, each component is in fact representing certain actual metabolic pathway. This is where the intricate metabolic network is working in balance, under tight regulation.

On the other side of the double-sided painting, however, is where metabolism is not working as it should. The focus of my research is on hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). So depicted here is an impression of how metabolism goes awry in cancer cells. In contrast to the balance and tight regulation on the other side, there are random, unpredictable changes.

The goal of my research is to identify biomarkers for diagnosing HCC earlier. The circles on the canvas represent the biomarkers that I aim to identify. Each contributing a certain weight towards a statistical model, represented by the threads of different thickness, it will inform us about whether a patient needs further investigations for HCC. This brings us back to the human figure, the patient, what this is all about.

It is a circle because this cycle is repeated again and again for validation. The piece is called “A dream of metabonomics”. It is a dream in two senses: 1) dream as in distorted reality – the abstract representation of actual science; 2) dream as in a goal, as this is a goal of humanity’s.”

The submissions for the competition are currently on display in Blythe Gallery until the 18 September.

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