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Form Exposes Function: Linking Biochemistry and Art

September 30, 2012
8:30-10:00 AM, WCC 236

Sunil Malapati, Associate Professor of Biochemistry, Clarke University
Eric Wold, Assistant Professor of Art, Clarke University

Form and Function 

Form and Function Presentation Rubric

Form and Function Presentation Parameters

"Form Exposes Function" is an interdisciplinary collaborative project between Biochemistry students and Art students developed at Clarke University to synthesize creative and unique scientific illustrations. Biochemistry students deepened their understanding of protein structures and spatial relationships while being exposed to powerful methods of communicating information. Art students strengthened their understanding of color relationships, spatial structures and compositional devices while working on a real world “problem”. The overall goal was to generate scientific illustrations that are incorporated into a joint oral presentation aimed at a layperson unfamiliar with either biochemistry or visual communication.

We used our project as a framework to enable workshop participants to design collaborative projects across disciplines; discuss strategies to define clear boundaries and student responsibilities; and to develop a flexible teaching toolbox that can assess a number of variables to assist integration across disciplines. We shared our project design, rubrics and results- both student work and the utility of assessment tools developed. We believed our project can be modified and used for collaboration between unique courses such as: drawing & evolutionary biology, sculpture & physiology, graphic design & bioinformatics; or any field struggling to represent huge amounts of complex data in a clear, cogent and parsimonious manner that is accessibly understood.

Sunil Malapati received his M Tech in Chemical Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai and his doctorate in Immunology from Northwestern University.  He is currently an Associate Professor of Biochemistry at Clarke University in Dubuque, IA.  Malapati primarily works on developing pedagogical materials for teaching Food Chemistry and visualization in Biochemistry.  Under the NSF-funded cCWCS umbrella (, he organizes national workshops on food chemistry at Clarke in summer.  He is part of the Biochemistry Core Collaborators, based out of Seattle University, and has worked on several published active-learning materials for teaching undergraduate biochemistry.  For the past five years, Sunil has been working on visualization strategies including collaborative projects with Art.

Eric Wold received a BFA from the University of Arizona in Visual Communications and a MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Design/Printmaking. He is currently an assistant professor of Graphic Design at Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa. Wold is an Art Director and Graphic Designer currently holding it down in the Midwest. Born and raised in the wild-west of Arizona he honed his skills as a designer working at progressive design boutiques in Phoenix before he set out to start his own design studio, Maverick Design, doing work for clients like Oakley, Fox, Discount Tire, Blue Burrito, and Midway Games. Wold has exhibited his illustrative design works nationally in both curated group as well as solo exhibitions. 


Joe Chihade
Associate Professor of Chemistry, Director of Carleton's Interdisciplinary Science and Math Initiative, Director of Biochemistry, Carleton College