Villin: A Tertiary Art-Science Collaboration

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Could art instruction help produce more innovative scientists?

In 2011, at DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana, staff and students presented an interesting collaborative project between the chemistry and sculpture departments at the annual ArtsFest event. With an artist and supported by university staff, the students designed and built a large-scale sculpture installation inspired by their protein-folding research.

The project was part of the curriculum of a class called ‘Introduction to Research’, offered to first- and second-year students in DePauw’s Science Research Fellows program.

The class was designed to introduce aspects of scientific research that can be challenging to convey in a traditional classroom setting. The instructors wanted to emphasise the importance of ‘imagination and metaphor in understanding and communicating modern science.’


At the beginning of the semester, the students participated in weekly 3-hour discussion groups and attended an introductory sculpture class to learn the basic sculptural techniques and design. Later in the semester, the students and faculty teamed up with a professional artist (Julian Voss-Andreae) to create a sculpture inspired by protein-folding research. The final installation was called Villin Headpiece Folding, comprised of four twisting steel structures suspended in the air by wires in the university’s science building.

While the plans to use Voss-Andreae’s construction techniques were pre-planned, the students influenced the visual design of the sculpture, including its installation, lighting, and colour.

Not only does the sculpture reach a wide audience, it combines aesthetic design with scientific knowledge to encourage viewers to think differently. It is both a work of art and a teaching instrument.
Working with their own hands provided the students with a tactile insight into concepts that they had only considered intellectually. The authors report that all the students developed an intuition for the complex topic they were studying. They go on to offer some wonderful advice for anyone interested in designing a similar project.


Thomas N Garavan, Ann McGarry, Sandra Watson, Norma D’Annunzio-Green, and Fergal O’ Brien. “The impact of arts-based leadership development on leader mind-set: A field experiment.” Advances in Developing Human Resources Vol. 17, No.3 (2015): 391–407.

Images courtesy: Julian Voss-Andreae. ‘Protein Sculptures: ‘Villin’ project.’ 

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