The Micro-level Beauty of Science on Display

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Steve Acquah
Steve Acquah

The campus community is invited to attend the second annual Research Art-Science Exhibition from 2 to 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 25 in the Digital Media Lab (DML) on the third floor of the W.E.B. DuBois Library. About 40 students, mostly from various STEM backgrounds, will present artistic representations of their research activities they created while participating in the media lab’s drive to support their new skills such a networking, sharing ideas, results and practicing presentations with peers.

The STEM students’ gallery images depict the beauty of such materials as meta-lenses for manipulating light, a model of the human gut that includes a realistic mucus layer to enhance microbiome studies and a pyrite-graphite rock mixture from the Adirondack Mountains. This year’s art event also offers visitors a chance to walk through a digital version of last year’s Research Art-Science Exhibition using virtual reality (VR).

“The great thing here is, even though the original idea was intended for CNS students, we had submissions from students in other colleges such as Engineering and Education, so we welcomed themto broaden the experience for everyone,” says Steve Acquah, the lab coordinator under director Sarah Hutton and an adjunct professor of chemistry. He is also director of Global Educational Outreach for Science Engineering and Technology (GEOSET), which he and the 1996 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Sir Harold W. Kroto established together in 2006. Kroto won the Nobel Prizeas part of a team that discovered fullerenes.

Acquah, whose own research interests include fullerenes, carbon nanotubes, sensors, photovoltaics and piezoelectric materials, adds, “Science communication is more important today than it has ever been. As we continue to recognize the growing diversity in STEM at UMass Amherst, we acknowledge the efforts of the students to communicate their passion for discovery through digital media, ranging from poster sessions to outreach activities by the Center for Autonomous Chemistry. Sir Harold Krotowould have been proud to see how energized students are about their work here.”

The London native first met Kroto as an undergraduate at the University of Sussex, U.K., where they worked together from 2001through Acquah finishing his Ph.D. studies in chemistry. When Kroto moved to Florida State University, Acquah was asked to lead his chemistry research lab there. Together they started the GEOSET project as an outreach to STEM students and support for educators. Later they partnered with the Graduate Women in Science (GWiS) at FSU to run an Art in STEM event.

Acquah, who came to UMass Amherst in 2018, says “Harry was always passionate about having students engage with their research using digital media because of the communication aspect.” Though April 30 will mark three years since Kroto passed away from complications related to ALS, Acquah adds, “his outreach activities and chemistry research will continue on here.”

New to UMass Amherst this year is the Sir Harold W. Kroto and Steve F.A. Acquah GEOSET Award, to be presented to a chemistry major who has demonstrated excellence in science communication through digital media, to continue the late Nobel laureate’s legacy in research and outreach. Also this year, the media lab is hosting a competition for a student to win a Lenovo Mirage Solo virtual reality headset “to encourage student ideas about how VR can be integrated into and enhance the campus community.”

Acquah has expanded the offerings of the Digital Media Lab to include Virtual Reality services and last year donated an HTC Vive VR headset as a competition prize for entrants who could identify ways to support campus life through VR, celebrating the release of the film,“Ready Player One.”The DML loans out cameras, microphones, stands and other digital media equipment.

Acquah, a participant of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings in Germany, earned a First Class Honors MChem Degree in Chemistry and a DPhil from the University of Sussex. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Royal Microscopical Society. In 2014 he was made a Chartered Chemist (CChem) and a Chartered Scientist (CSci) and is one of the “175 Faces of Chemistry” who have helped to shape chemistry and science. Recognizing these chemistry role models, who include Rosalind Franklin, Adrian V. Stokes, Alfred Nobel, Michael Faraday, Alexander Borodin and Marie Curie, highlights the diversity in the chemical sciences, he adds.