Separations of Color

Artist: Stefan Marasligiller
Laboratory: Mary Philip


Stefan Marasligiller’s (A&S ’19) artistic experience began recently with his work being included in the ArtLab exhibition this Spring, however since high school he’s worked in cancer research labs in Cincinnati, Nashville, and Denver. From drug synthesis to mouse genetics, he’s had the opportunity to learn from the many ways researchers work to better understand cancer. He hopes to continue cancer research as a medical student at the University of Cincinnati and to eventually conduct clinical trials for the development of new treatments against cancer as a physician-scientist. Given his interest in the development of breakthrough anti-cancer treatments, Dr. Philip’s work describing ways to better improve immunotherapy drugs was exciting to read.

For this piece Stefan decided to focus on one of the high-tech methods the Philip’s lab routinely uses to determine how immune cells behave. This method, called flow cytometry, pumps cells one at a time through a detector that separates various cell populations by different fluorescent labels adhering to their surfaces. The diversity of available fluorescent labels which can emit a spectrum of highly saturated colors are what allows a flow cytometer to separate cells so precisely. Depicted here in the classic “Y” shape, these fluorescent labels are typically conjugated to antibodies which provide the majority of the flow cytometers specificity. He found the idea that these instruments are able to perform such a complex task as separating out individual cells in a diverse population through color fitting for a visual artwork. This led to the creation of a Takashi Murakami-inspired, highly colorful all-over composition of a sample of cells labelled with antibodies. The multitude of colors shown in the image is meant to reflect the ability of this method to hypothetically quantify as many different cell types as there are colors.

Typically, Stefan’s art makes use of text over images to convey specific messages; however, with scientific jargon being highly esoteric to its respective fields of study, he felt the need to use primarily images instead. Additionally, with the diversity of saturated colors that he wanted to include in my piece, Adobe Illustrator allowed him to efficiently create the detailed composition that he desired. While his art has previously engaged with the ways that over-prescribing harms many vulnerable individuals, he enjoyed the opportunity to focus on a method that makes many cancer research advances possible by learning about Dr. Philip’s work through the ArtLab/ VI4 Summer Artist-in-Residence program. Speaking of the
Artist-in-Residence program, Stefan says, “Overall this project has shown me how creating art inspired by cutting-edge research allows me to be informed on the latest technology which I hope to employ as a biomedical researcher in the future.”

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