Groundbreaking research at Penn Medicine improves quality of life for many and saves countless lives every day, so it is easy to imagine how presenting these critical studies in journals and to various audiences can always be a challenge.
So, what is the most effective way to display complex medical research discoveries in journals and in presentations to various audiences?
The office of Biomedical Art and Design offers that solution to many researchers at Penn Medicine.
Operating out of a small office in John Morgan Building, Mary Leonard and Anne Pugh offer important presentation services to the Penn community.
“We have a unique opportunity in Biomedical Art & Design to help scientists and other professionals communicate their ideas and their science visually,” said Pugh. “We strive to do so in a way that is as clear and sound as possible.”
Coming from a largely artistic background, Leonard continues to build on her previously very limited knowledge of science and medicine as clients ask her to design art for particular studies.
Leonard jumped right into doing art for some of those complex studies in the 1980s while working for the highly accomplished biophysicist Britton Chance, the former Eldridge Reeves Johnson emeritus professor of biophysics, physical chemistry and radiologic physics at Penn, who passed in fall 2010.
“He was a force,” said Leonard. “He definitely was an amazing person.”
In addition to learning more about Chance’s studies, he helped shape Leonard’s work style.
“Working with Britton Chance, he would often revisit things,” said Leonard. “So, it forced me to be organized.”
Executing the art design for this research helped Leonard learn more about the one conducting it.
“What I got from Britton Chance was just the most incredible work ethic I had ever seen,” said Leonard. “His personal life and work life worked together as one and so he was working all the time.”
New Technology Constantly Changes Art
At the same time Leonard has adapted to the ever-changing world of graphic art.
“With the advent of the computer, I re-learned everything digitally,” said Leonard. “Much of what I do now was self-taught using the computer.”
Leonard uses Illustrator daily, along with Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and other programs on the job. She also teaches basic Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to post-docs and faculty affairs in the Anatomy-Chemistry building. “Teaching these classes, I want to focus on giving students the skills they need,” said Leonard. “I try to cram as much information as possible into the limited class time. These programs are complex but can be used simply and easily.”
Leonard acknowledges the clear distinctions in how the office used to operate compared to now.
“In the old days,” says Leonard, “You would submit photographic prints with your paper. Ken would photograph the drawings and make prints of the drawings and those would be sent to a journal for submission.”
To this day, Leonard and Pugh store Ray’s 3X5 negatives taken decades ago in the office. Typically, Leonard would design a chart or similar graphic, and Ray would photographic them.
Stationed in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, associated with the Johnson Research Foundation, the Biomedical Art and Design office is “completely different from when I started to where it is now,” said Leonard.
Constantly adapting to new challenges, the office does work for researchers, such as Leslie Dutton, PhD, Eldridge Reeves Johnson Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics and director, Johnson Foundation for Molecular Biophysics.
“He is the one responsible for constantly pushing me forward,” said Leonard. “He might say, ‘now I need you to do web design,’ then I’d have to learn web design.”
Typically, those researchers take time and meet with Mary Leonard and go back and forth through various drafts, sometimes offered a few options in a meeting, until the art is just right.
“It's always fun when our clients get excited to see their work, which they know so well, presented in a new way,” said Pugh.
While most of their current projects are for Penn Medicine researchers, the two also do work for Penn’s Dental School, Vet School, Monell Chemical Senses Center, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and more.
This work also includes producing programs, booklets, and other promotional materials for annual events, such as pieces for the annual post-doc symposium (poster, abstract book, and website) at Penn, and designing a logo for a spine symposium.
Adding to seminar news already on them, five screens on the second floor of the Anatomy-Chemistry Building, and the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of Stellar Chance now include science trivia questions added by Leonard.
During the last ten years, the questions have become increasingly challenging, and have been tabulated into a popular sold-out book.
In 2009, the office printed a more unique publication, a department cookbook illustrated by Dutton. The book features an eclectic mix of dishes, including a Lemon-Cardamom pound cake recipe from Kim Sharp, PhD, associate professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics, a veggie chili recipe by Dutton, an avocado salsa recipe submitted by Ben Black, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics, and much more.
On Dutton’s cookbook art, Leonard says, “Art and science go hand in hand, and definitely with him.”
Art and science clearly go hand in hand here.