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June 25, 2013

Welcome (back) to Woods Hole!


Lizzie Kripke   Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA

On the southwestern tip of Cape Cod, Woods Hole is largely known as that place to catch the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. Complete with piercingly blue skies, a perpetually breezing sea, and politely zoned-out tourists, the scene is set for outstanding amounts of…marine research?

Eel Pond, Woods Hole

As it turns out, this tiny seaside stretch is in fact home to numerous renowned marine research institutions. As a Maharam Fellow, I am stationed at one of them – the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL). MBL, the nation’s oldest private marine lab, houses a couple hundred scientists year-round. In the summer, however, an additional 1700 scientists and students flock here to either conduct research or participate in high-level courses. It is an impressive place. Throughout its pioneering history in research science, it has been affiliated with 55 Nobel Prize winners; 118 Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators, early career scientists, international researchers, and professors; 202 Members of the National Academy of Sciences; and 178 Members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences ( And that’s just MBL. The other institutions in town, literally next door, boast similarly intimidating resumes. Together, they all contribute to a fiercely scientific community.

So what is the role of an artist at a serious science establishment such as this?

Great question! And I can confidently tell you that we still don’t know! Although, I can also confidently tell you that my work here is aimed at chipping away at that question. While it is clear that no simple or prescriptive answer exists, I am a firm believer that the fields of art and science are remarkably complementary. I suspect that exploring a practical mutualism between the two will lead to new insights, on both sides of the fence, which would not have been foreseeable otherwise.

I have been pursuing this idea throughout my time as a student in the Brown/RISD Dual Degree Program. The simultaneous nature of my studies in both neuroscience and painting has been crucial to my developing interest in integrating these two methods of inquiry. Both fields seek to confront the edge of human knowledge and experience. Perhaps this pursuit can become more comprehensive and broadly meaningful, both within and beyond the art and science communities, through a collision of diverse methods and ideas.

Last summer, I really began applying this line of thought when I fortuitously back-doored my way into MBL – specifically, into the lab of Roger Hanlon.  Dr. Hanlon is one of the leading experts on dynamic camouflage in cephalopods – that is, the astounding ability of squid, cuttlefish, and octopuses to change their body color, pattern, and shape on the timescale of milliseconds. See for yourself, it’s pretty unreal.

Our work together ended up being promisingly fruitful, but I am all the more eager, now, to push the collaboration even further.

I will be sure to provide more details about the exact nature of my work, and why it matters, in future posts – but for now, I leave you with some sunny photos of MBL. The top-notch research technologies and overflowing volumes of mental juice are not the only reason scientists flock here every summer…

Lillie Laboratory, MBL

Lillie Laboratory, MBL

My office is in the building on the right

Eel Pond. My office is in the building on the right

MBL/WHOI Library

MBL/WHOI Library

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