Senior Project: Exploring the Mysteries of Emergence

“It is one thing to learn the facts, to study our organ systems, and to ‘know’ about the human body, but a whole other level of understanding is gained when one is able to visualize it. How do roughly ten million individual cells come together to create a human body with such complex functions?” Ross student Kate Nelson posits this question in a personal statement for her Senior Project, “The Sum of the Parts.”

Fusing together two seemingly contradictory interests—science and art—Kate created a book on anatomy that explores emergence. She first learned about the “magic called ‘emergence’” in a biology elective she took in tenth grade with Dr. Hugh McGuinness. “What is emergence? It’s something we use to explain the gaps in our understanding,” she said. “I wanted to explore how we get from atoms to human bodies; there’s still something we haven’t really explained yet.”

Kate looks at how the building blocks of human anatomy interact to create the human body—from molecular makeup, genetics, and DNA, to stem cells, specialized cells, tissues, skeleton, and finally, systems. She used photomicrography (or microscopic photography) and facial reconstruction, as well as illustrations and diagrams, to communicate ideas about emergent properties.

Her challenge was to avoid creating a typical, dry textbook that could intimidate her audience with technical jargon. Instead she blended interesting descriptions with original visuals to create an engaging reader experience. “I wanted to make it something that people wouldn’t shy away from.” Kate’s descriptions are complemented by unique sketch overlays and paintings, such as a watercolor EKG.

Ultimately, this senior project is Kate’s valentine to the human anatomy. “I wanted to show the beauty in biology and the human body and how emergence factors into that.”

In addition to her book, Kate will present a gallery installation of her artwork during Senior Project Exhibition Night on January 17.