Ahna Skop blends science and art as newest LSC affiliate faculty member

Art and science may seem like a mismatch, but to Ahna Skop, the newest affiliate faculty member in the Department of Life Sciences Communication, they make perfect sense.

Raised by two artists and holding an associate professorship in the Department of Genetics, she strives to be interdisciplinary in all of her work. When not researching cell division in her lab, she is teaching her science students how to write effectively and think about using visuals to communicate. She also incorporates art into her research interests. For example, she has organized the bi-annual Worm Art Show for the International C. elegans Meeting for the past 19 years.

On April 17, 2008, Ahna Skop, assistant professor of genetics, poses in front of oversized images highlighting microscopic science, an art display she coordinated and installed in the lobby of the Genetics-Biotechnology Center Building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. ©UW-Madison University Communications 608/262-0067 Photo by: Jeff Miller Date: 04/08 File#: D200 digital camera frame 0757
Ahna Skop, associate professor of genetics. ©UW-Madison University Communications  Photo by: Jeff Miller

“I know there are ways to communicate science effectively through the visual and I spend a lot of time thinking about them,” she said. “It’s not just through writing. There are ways you can clearly articulate science to the public in a very simply way with a nice image or illustration. When thinking in the visual you often see things in a way you wouldn’t have before.”

Members of LSC noticed her work and were happy to welcome her as an affiliate faculty member. She will add her expertise to LSC’s growing pool of distinguished faculty.

“We are extremely happy to welcome Ahna to LSC,” said LSC Chair Dominique Brossard. “Her important work in art, science, and science communication brings a lot of insight into our department.”

Skop has received multiple awards for her work. Most recently, she was named a Kavli Frontiers of Science Fellow, joining Brossard and LSC director of graduate studies Dietram Scheufele as the third LSC faculty member to get the honor. She was also named a Remarkable Woman in Science from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was awarded an honorary doctorate of science from the College of St. Benedicts in 2008.

“This connection to LSC is very validating for me,” Skop explained. “It lets me know that what I’m doing in my teaching, artwork, and outreach efforts are being recognized. I want people to understand that the visual is really important for scientific discovery and communication.”

An image taken by Skop's lab that depicts cell division.
An image taken by Skop’s lab that depicts cell division.

Through a small grant she obtained from the Sloan Foundation, she, and another LSC faculty member, Don Stanley, will be mentoring two LSC students during the fall and spring of this school year. These students are Kemi Olukoga and Kaitlin Morse, who will construct ideas, write articles, and create visuals for a new College of Agricultural and Life Sciences website that focuses on STEM diversity. And thanks to the grant Skop secured, LSC students will get paid for their valuable work.

Skop is a champion for diversity in higher education and serves on numerous committees to help underrepresented students, including chairing the CALS Equity and Diversity Committee. She also enjoys cooking and baking in her free time and manages a food blog, foodskop.com. Some of her science-inspired artwork can also be found on campus in the Genetics/Biotechnology Center building.

“I hope people that see my work develop a passion for studying science,” she said. “Or I hope they discover the beauty of science and begin to appreciate it. I believe my work creates a dialogue that you can have with that person that you otherwise wouldn’t have.”