Local Artist to Lead Discussion on Art, Cutting-edge Brain Research

By: Paul Bello

June 3, 2014, Silver Spring, Md.: Rebecca Kamen, an award-winning sculptor and one-time resident artist with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will host a discussion on the correlation between art and brain research on Tuesday, June 24 from 6-7 p.m. at the Silver Spring Civic Building. The program sponsored by the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM) is part of its monthly series of "science cafes" that educates the public and informs audiences on the most recent advances in the worlds of medicine and science.

Now professor emeritus from Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), Kamen spent 35 years in the classroom as an art educator. When she was awarded a fellowship from NIH in 2012, she saw it as a golden opportunity to once again interact with young minds, scientists, and everyone in between.

"It was invigorating because it allowed me to investigate the incredible realms of science and how they intersect with one another," Kamen said. "That experience took me on an incredible journey. It helped me understand what scientists are researching and how to use my artwork to create visual narratives that reflect scientific discovery."

After three months and more than 20 interviews with neuroscientists, Kamen took her knowledge of the brain and transformed it into artwork. Much of it remains on display at NIH's John Edward Porter Neuroscience Research Center.

Another result of Kamen's research is the development of a summer internship program at George Mason University, which encourages science interns to use art as a way of interpreting research. Kamen appears at the school regularly for presentations that challenges students to see research through a different lens.

Harvard University has also showcased her work inspired by the periodic table as part of a 21st century online chemistry course developed for the Annenberg Learning Series.

"I'm certainly inspired by the famed neuroscientist Santiago y Cajal. He won the Nobel Prize in 1906 for his work on the human nervous system. Without a doubt, he's a big inspiration," Kamen said. "I don't have any formal science background, so I need to be able to understand and experience it on many levels. What I've discovered in my research is to take a concept and invite people to see it in a new way. Once you understand the conceptual narrative, it becomes real to you."

Rebecca Kamen, resident artist at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), delivers the plenary address for the March 12, 2014, Brain Awareness Week program at the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM). Kamen will be featured at an NMHM "Medical Museum Science Café" on June 24, 2014. (Disclosure: This image has been cropped to emphasize the subject.) (National Museum of Health and Medicine photo by Matthew Breitbart/ Released)

In addition to her work with the NIH, Kamen is no stranger to NMHM, either. She has visited on several occasions, most recently appearing as a guest speaker during its annual Brain Awareness Week in March. She's delighted to be invited back and is looking forward to sharing her passion for art and science with others, especially those of a younger generation.

"Being passionate about something at a young age can carry over into adult life. That's a tremendous feeling to have," Kamen said. "If people see the human side of things - that makes it all the more inspiring."

The next Medical Museum Science Café: "Making The Invisible, Visible: Discoveries Between Art and Neuroscience" will be held Tuesday, June 24 from 6-7 p.m. at the Silver Spring Civic Building Fenton Room, 1 Veterans Place, Silver Spring, MD 20910. For more information, call NMHM at 301-319-3303.