Molly Foulkes (left) & Dr Roslin Adamson (right) are taking part in the first Soapbox Art & Science event in Oxford on Saturday 1st July as part of Oxford Festival of the Arts. Their topic is “Structural biology: how we see single molecules.” Roslin works with Molecular Biology, Structural Biology and Nanotechnology at the University of Oxford and Molly is studying Fine Art at he Ruskin School of Art in Oxford.
SS: How did I get to my current positions?
MF: I have studied GCSE Art, A-Level Art, a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design and am currently just finishing my first year of three studying Fine Art at the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford. It’s a pretty standard, but in no way boring, path to take but I am so happy I pursued art instead of engineering which I strongly considered at one point.
RA: My story is a bit unusual. I started out studying fine art, but then ended up teaching English in Japan for 8 years. While I was in Japan I became involved in bodybuilding and began reading as much as I could about nutrition, protein synthesis, vitamins, supplements and their effects on the body. However, much of the research was very difficult for me to understand, so I decided I would go back to university to study science. Doing a master’s degree and a PhD just followed naturally. I am now in an area that I really enjoy – protein structure/function, although I no longer lift weights unfortunately.
(left) Magnified protein crystals & (right) sculptures by Molly Foulkes.
SS: Molly, what/ who inspired you to study in your area?
MF: A number of different teachers inspired me to study art starting off with Mr Reiley, my secondary school art teacher then Toby Saville and Rob French, my art tutors during A-Level Art and AS Sculpture and Art Foundation.
SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?
RA: I think the most interesting part about my work is the fact that we can “see” molecules on almost an atomic scale! This is mind-boggling to me, aside from how incredibly intricate and perfectly organised the cell and the organism are. The way that the protein machinery in the cell dances this delicate balance between function and dysfunction, and how each protein or protein complex knows what it has to do, and the kind of cellular effects that can occur according to diet and other environmental factors, as well as genetics, is thrilling and almost mystical in its complexity. I also love the clever ways that working with proteins has been approached by past scientists – the methods and techniques that we take for granted today were unheard of and unthought of not so long ago. The advances in biological and medical sciences are incredible, and yet there is still so much to learn …
MF: The most fascinating aspect of my work is projects such as Soapbox Art and Science that intertwine and combine supposedly separate subject areas. Collaborative projects create interesting spaces for work to emerge.
(left) Some of the crystals that Roslin Adamson works with & (right) a piece by Molly Foulkes
SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Art & Science in the first place?
MF: I did A-Level Biology and at one point I was also very keen to become a midwife and might still in the future. I applied to Oxford because of the ability and openness of allowing subjects to intermingle and cross over. Soapbox Art and Science is a perfect event enabling me to pursue my interest in both science and art and begin conversations with scientists.
RA: I am both a scientist and an artist, so this seemed like an excellent platform for me to share my enthusiasm for both with the wider public. I think introducing the art aspect of it will make the science side more approachable for lay people. I fear there is often a sense in people who don’t know about science that scientists are cold and calculating, without ethics, and that what we do is dangerous somehow, when none of these things is the case.
SS: What ideas are you working on together?
MF: We want to create a slightly interactive and sculptural representation of microbiology and other areas Ros studies. Ros used to study Fine Art and has shown me her amazing family of sculptures/ creatures in her garden. We have had a discussion about potentially having a joint exhibition when I return to Oxford for my 2nd year after September. We feel our work has a strong overlap and it would be a shame to discontinue the conversation after Soapbox Art and Science.
Sculpture by Molly Foulkes