Collage of an intestinal brush border.

Artist: Betty Barnett
Mentor: Caroline Cencer
Laboratory: Matt Tyska

Collage of an intestinal brush border. A brush border is a collection of tiny protrusions on the surface of intestinal cells, which exist to optimize nutrient absorption. Made using recycled paper materials.

Earlier this summer, while wandering through an old cathedral, Betty noticed a series of modern collages displayed on one of the walls. Inspired by the beauty and eccentricity of the pieces, she decided that, in whatever free time she had over the summer months, she was going to focus on experimenting with collages made of recycled paper materials. Later that same day, Betty received a serendipitous email about the Artist-in-Residence program, and immediately knew that she wanted to apply, as she felt that it would be the perfect opportunity for her to apply her newfound interest in collage-making in a relevant and personally meaningful way.
After her acceptance into the program, Betty was paired with the Tyska Lab. As an imaging-based laboratory,the Tyska Lab uses a wide array of microscopes to visualize intestinal features known as microvilli. Microvilli are tiny, actin-supported protrusions on the apical surface of intestinal cells, which exist to increase intestinal surface area and optimize nutrient absorption.
Having spent two years conducting research
in a neurobiology lab back home in Michigan, Betty had already spent her fair share of time staring at mammalian cells through the lenses of various microscopes. Therefore, she was already relatively familiar with the subject matter that she was to work with. However, although she enjoyed a number of art classes in middle and high school, she always had gravitated toward creating portraits—piecing together collages of microscopic images, then, was a step in a fresh direction for her.
Seeking to depict microvilli in a new light, Betty set out to handcraft a large-scale collage of an intestinal brush border using cutouts from discarded vintage travel books. This was a painstaking process, but ultimately well worth the effort. She also created several logos for the Tyska Lab, all of which incorporate microvilli that were previously imaged by members of the lab. Overall, Betty greatly enjoyed her time as an ArtLab/VI4 Summer Artist-in-Residence, and would highly recommend the program to anyone seeking to apply their artistic skills in the world of science.

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