Accidental biology

A self-taught artist discovered the world of biology by dabbling in watercolors

Richard P. Grant
Sep 23, 2010
Painter Michele Banks wasn't intending to delve into the realm of science with her work when she began dabbling in watercolors. But when the Washington D.C.-based artist dripped a spot of wet paint onto a larger splotch of different-colored paint, she did just that. And she hasn't looked back since.Thirty years ago, linkurl:Benoit Mandelbrot;http://www.math.yale.edu/mandelbrot/ described how natural forms -- from trees and ferns to coastlines -- could be described by fractals. Two recent papers in linkurl:__Science__;http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/326/5950/289 and linkurl:__The EMBO Journal__;http://www.nature.com/emboj/journal/v28/n24/full/emboj2009340a.html propose that fractals can also explain the three-dimensional structure of chromatin within the cell's nucleus. The repeating patterns of fractals can also lend themselves to art, as Banks discovered when she learned to paint with watercolors. Strikingly, the fractal patterns she created looked, to scientists she met, like cellular processes.Banks trained neither as an artist nor a scientist. Rather, she studied Russian, and even lived and worked in Russia...




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