I’m a scientist, so I’m sensitive about my data: The creativity within STEM

neuron_by_mental_traffic

“The Neuron”.  Artwork by Mental Traffic

Written By Dr. Erika E. Alexander

Sometimes I think about the moment I decided studying science was for me. I was a freshman in college. It wasn’t because I particularly liked math or analyzing data, or being cooped up in a science lab all day/night (because that’s what scientists were to me, then). At the time I was a Psychology major, because I had done well in high school classes and found it mildly interesting. I was in the honors program, and most of my friends just so happened to be high-achieving Biology majors. They were already taking major classes, including BIO 101. One day, in between doing my homework, I was flipping through my friend’s textbook. I became amazed at what I was reading. The images I saw of life and all of its creatures, the complex problems, and elegant solutions inspired in me such a sense of wonder. I wanted more. I wanted to create. So I began down a path which has led me, ironically, in a full circle (more on that in another post).

As I continued my pursuit of scientific exploration in graduate school, I became aware of certain patterns (and I’ve always loved patterns) in the people around me. I found that many of my brilliant researcher friends also had creative side. I know people who have published in Nature and PNAS, who take photos that would make you weep. I’ve been to physics conferences where one of the featured events was a musical jam session by my fellow scientists. I know a brilliant computer programmer that plays a mean trumpet. I’ve attended art shows with works showcasing brilliantly colorful confocal imaging of cells and cellular organization, close up images of spider eyes and bird wings, and hand drawn illustrations of a neuron.

I also love to create beautiful things. From coasters/home scents, to all natural beauty products, to cooking and baking for loved ones, to imaging hair cells on the confocal. If I am creating, I’m happy. I’ve always been inspired by images, and photography is also a secret love of mine, one that I hope to learn more about in the near future. I find many things in the world inspiring, including my science and the images it produces. I suspect many of my friends feel the same way. I have friends who are talented dancers, sculptors and interior designers, who put on a lab coat and gloves at work everyday. My friends paint, sing, write poetry and blogs, and can tell you exactly what elements and compounds are contained within a sample just by looking at spikes on a computer screen.  They can record individual neurons as they communicate with other cells, and grow plants that glow in the dark. Artists.

I say all of this, because I wonder if this pattern of great science and great creativity is connected. Nathan Alexander talked about the policy push towards adding an A for Art into the STEM acronym (to create STEAM) to appeal to a more diverse group of students. Separation of science and art is taught to us early. When I was in elementary school, the same teacher who taught us History, English, and Math, also taught Science in the same room. Meanwhile, an entirely different teacher taught Art in a different classroom, in a different part of the building. There were no connections to STEM subjects, or suggestions that a career in art is something that those who like science should pursue.

Society views artists as free, wild, and complicated, while scientists are analytical, data-driven, and socially awkward. Artists create art and poetry and scientists use lasers and build killer robots. At first glance, they could not be farther apart on the spectrum of humanity. But, then why are so many creatives drawn towards STEM careers? Is it just that scientific research is so stressful, with all of it’s pitfalls, politics, and potential failures, that a creative outlet is a distraction required to survive?

Or, is science in its essential form creativity? Does it not require skill and a sometimes slavish dedication to craft? Can creative inspiration by other artists or muses be likened to the genesis of new experimental ideas and paradigms after talking with fellow scientists about their research? Does attention to detail and seemingly unrelated factors play an important role in both the evolution of art and science? Are a sculptor and an engineer simply creating different pieces of art? Can there be true artistic beauty in a high-resolution image of the cellular organization of auditory sensory cells?

I got into science because I saw it as a creative endeavor, a chance to carve out my path and to use my skills to create new understanding of the world around me. In my mind, art, is a way of communicating about life, sharing with the world all of its wonders and it’s dark, scary places. To me, the two subjects aren’t so very different. So maybe it’s time for a more nuanced view of both professions. Maybe art and science can share the same room after all.

What do you think? Are there better ways to incorporate science into art classes and vice versa?  Should artistic ability be encouraged/developed in the budding scientist?

How I’m Building My Tech Startup

Written by Chanel Martin 

A black woman in a tech start-up in the South, sounds like an oxymoron right? But it’s true. My name is Chanel Martin, and I am Co-founder and COO (Chief Operating Officer) of Techturized. Techturized was the brainchild of co-founder Candace Mitchell, CEO, and myself. We met at Georgia Institute of Technology in 2008. Mitchell was studying computer science, and I was in a dual degree program with Clark Atlanta University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering.

Techturized is a hair care technology company that creates innovative solutions to transform the hair industry. We launched our first product, Myavana, December 2013. Myavana is a mobile and social style platform, where women can search for hairstyles, products, and stylists in their area. Myavana will offer hair personalization plans Fall/Winter 2014. These personalized plans will recommend hairstyles, products, and services based on a woman’s unique hair type.

On how we got started

Candace and I had issues with finding the right styles and products for our hair. One day, I was searching for natural hair wedding styles for my upcoming wedding. I searched everywhere, including blogs, websites, and YouTube videos and was overwhelmed. I didn’t understand why the information was so fragmented and unhelpful. I decided to do something about it! What better person to tackle this issue than a Chemical Engineer?  I reached out to Candace Mitchell to help with the tech side and the rest was history.

On getting funding

We applied to an accelerator program, Flashpoint, based out of Georgia Tech in 2012. They provided $35K in funding, an office space, and seasoned mentors. We were accepted and began immediately working on our company. Flashpoint was instrumental to the success of our brand and our company. During Flashpoint, we interviewed over 1000 women to help build our first product, Myavana. We also learned how to pitch to investors, and to hustle!

After Flashpoint, we asked friends and family to invest in our company and raised $40K. We then caught the eye of some local angel investors and raised an additional $25K. Next, we participated in a crowdfunding campaign through indeigogo and raised another $25K. Our biggest funding cash cow comes from pitch competitions. To date, we have raised $85K, and over $200K in products and services from entering and winning pitch competitions. We are currently in the processes of raising $500K to carry out the next phases of our business.

On our challenges

We have faced so many challenges, but each one has helped us grow as a company, and as a team. Raising money as a minority owned company in the south, that provides/sells products and services to women of color has been a huge hurdle. People invest in people, ideas, and businesses that they are comfortable with. That means, that the old white guy probably doesn’t understand us, or our business model. For that reason, we have spent lots of money, time, and energy educating white men and women on the black consumer market. When we explain that black women drive 33 % of the 10 billion dollar US hair product industry, but are only 6% of the population, they start to “kind of” get it.

We also had to overcome our underlying  issues about being black women who are asking a southern white men for money.

On why are we doing this

If it were only about the “potential money” that we would make, then we would have quit a long time ago. This path has been an exciting, yet a stressful whirlwind of events. There have been many times along this 2-year journey where I wanted to quit. I wanted to go back to being a chemical engineer in a traditional 9-5 setting, but we both realized that we are on an assignment from God. We are trailblazers, who are paving the path for other women to use their STEM backgrounds to create multi-million, even billion-dollar companies. We are a reminder to the human race, that with perseverance, trust in God, and family support, you can achieve anything no matter your socioeconomic status or skin color.

On Advice to other entrepreneurs

Candace and I work on this full-time. In addition to full-time work with Techturized, I am a wife and a mother to a newborn baby girl. It’s a tough road to follow, and you need a support system to get through each day. Before walking away from that 9-5, identify your support system that will encourage you and keep you lifted in prayer and daily affirmation’s. Understand that the road less traveled is very tough. You may get hundreds of “no’s” before you get your first “yes”. If you truly believe in what you are doing, keep at it.

What’s Next

We were just accepted in to another business accelerator program, DreamIt Ventures for the fall cohort. We are also partnering with Spelman College in Atlanta to create a pipeline for women in STEM. To keep up with Techturized and Myavana, visit Myavana.com/media. Myavana is available for download in the Apple App and Google Play stores. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @MyavanaHair.

 

Chanel Martin is Chemical Engineer from Oklahoma City. She not only excelled in her studies, which led to her receiving her Master of Science in Chemical Engineering, but she also possesses a passion for entertainment, beauty and all things hair. Follow her @chanelebone on Twitter and Instagram.