Why the “A” in STEAM encourages scientific discovery.

Growing up, you could say I was an “art kid”. I remember scrapbooking, taking part in pottery classes, singing in school musicals, and enrolling in every visual art class I could take in high school, including yearbook. At the same time, I performed well academically and took a liking to the sciences. As I neared the end of high school, I began thinking about what I was going to do next, and what type of career I wished to pursue. I figured science would be the logical path for a “professional” and “financially stable” job as opposed to pursuing the arts. This led me to complete both a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Education degree in university.

In my final year of my undergraduate degree, I began working in a molecular biology research lab. Quickly I fell in love with the scientific process and research, and enrolled in a PhD. As I worked away at my thesis, I faced many roadblocks, as many graduate students do. I found myself staying so laser focused on what I needed to get done that I wasn’t thinking outside of the box, nor was I exploring different ideas to help me solve the complex problems I was facing. I realized that science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is nothing without creativity, innovation and imagination. Art is what brings these skills to the table. From that point forward, I became determined to use my creative side – which I had been suppressing for so many years – and began thinking innovatively about my research.

When referring to art, many people only think about the visual and musical aspects, when in reality art encompasses so much more including critical and creative writing, social justice, communications, and inquiry. I like to look at arts as the glue that connects all of the STEM disciplines together. A strong knowledge of the arts allows scientists and engineers to focus less on the end goal of what the outcomes “should” be, and focus more on what the outcome “could” be. In history, some of the biggest scientific breakthroughs were a result of trying something completely out of the norm. Having creativity allows for the creation of things that are novel, and ultimately benefits the progression of science in society.

Not only does art aid in the creative aspect of scientific discovery, it also allows for engagement from a diverse audience. It’s fair to say that traditionally science has been taught in dull and lackluster ways, often as a series of facts and terms, discouraging those who learn best with more creative styles. Perhaps this is the reason why people in the arts do not see themselves fitting into the sciences. But, what if we integrated art into how we teach and learn science? Surely, this would attract a more diverse group of learners and perhaps allow for individuals, who would not typically seek out science, feel connected to STEM and engage in their own scientific explorations. One of the best ways to increase science literacy in our communities is by making it accessible, which can be achieved by diversifying how we teach it. The result: STEM can move full-STEAM ahead into the future!

Tapping into my creative side, and learning how to think outside of the box and differentiate my research, helped me excel as a scientist and educator. The arts challenge our creativity, communication, higher-level thinking, and decision-making, all of which are skills necessary in STEAM. The arts provide the platform for a more inclusive and scientifically literate community, while supporting diversity, personal expression, and innovation in thinking. In the words of Albert Einstein, “After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved science and art tend to coalesce in aesthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are artists as well.”

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