An expansive mural depicting the Tree of Life hanging on the second floor of the Biology Building, outside the BioLearning Centre was created by an atypical group of artists — a collection of undergraduate science majors.
Before graduating with a bachelor of science in biology earlier this year, Phil Habashy collaborated with a team of science students as part of Science Meets Art (SMArt), a project encouraging science students to use their artistic skills to educate about science. He also received academic credit through the new Faculty of Science Service Learning course.
Habashy says his inspiration was to create a version of the Tree of Life that is creative yet still integrates many aspects of the biological field into one piece: molecular biology, neuroscience, anatomy and physiology, genetics, embryology, diversity, and evolution.
“We started with the smallest microscopic complex, expanded towards the diversity of organisms, and ended with the analogy of the tree as the ‘Tree of Life,’ just like a chain,” says Habashy.
His service learning supervisor Dora Cavallo-Medved is also the SMArt faculty leader.
“In addition to creating a unique art piece, Phil designed an interactive 3D model kit that students will use to build phylogenetic trees and depict the evolutionary relationships between species,” says Dr. Cavallo-Medved. “Both the art piece and the 3D model activity will now be incorporated into our Biological Diversity course next winter as part of a new learning module, which Phil designed, for our Evolution, Taxonomy and Phylogeny teaching lab.”
He led the team, but Habashy credits the dedication and enthusiasm of his fellow SMArt volunteers for ensuring the accuracy of the painting’s scientific detail.
“Seeing it hanging up made me feel accomplished, especially knowing that the long hours of effort and planning to finalize it required a lot of commitment and hard work from every individual that contributed towards this project” he says.
“It felt like running a race and passing the end line, then looking back at what was accomplished and finally seeing the people who stood beside me through the journey; my family, my professors, my team, my colleagues, and my friends. I cannot be thankful enough for all of their support, motivation, and guidance.”
Biological sciences department head Dennis Higgs says that having a student create the mural shows other students the importance of embracing their creative sides, in addition to striving for academic success.
“Philip’s mural is a wonderful representation of how integrative biological sciences truly is and will be a great visual aid to show students, and others, that to truly understand biology you have to think across all levels, from the molecule up to the community,” he says. “It also reinforces our efforts to help students see the value of different types of scientific communication.”
The mural was unveiled last week to local high school students attending the annual UWindsor Science Academy. Find images of the artworks’ timeline, from the original sketch to final product, on the SMArt website.