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An Interview with BRIO4 Winners: Celebrating the Artistic Side of Research

In the words of Albert Einstein, one of the most prolific and influential physicists, art and science are branches of the same tree. However, both these fields are perceived as completely divergent and independent of each other. Art is seen as intuitive, creative, and expressive. Whereas, science and research are taken to be objective, evidence-backed, measured, and even seen by many as boring.

To bridge this gap and celebrate the artistic side of research, QNRF organizes the Best Representative Image of an Outcome (BRIO) competition annually and invites voters from around the world to pick the winner. For the fourth edition, QNRF shortlisted six images submitted by researchers working on QNRF-awarded projects from different disciplines. After an online process that received 1,500 votes, Dr. Bilal Mansoor and Dr. Vasanth Shunmugasamy from Texas A&M University at Qatar were selected as the BRIO4 winners for their image from their research project on biodegradable magnesium implants (read more about it in the December edition of Research Matters.)

We met up with Dr. Mansoor and Dr. Shunmugasamy to learn how they, as researchers, see the nexus between art and research and why they think the voters selected their entry as the BRIO competition winner.

  1. Why do you think exploring the artistic side of scientific research is important and what does it signify, especially for people who are not related to science or research?

A picture tells more than a thousand words’, is applicable to science as well. Scientific results often comprise graphs, numeric data, or technical jargon that most people find boring and difficult to follow, and often important messages can get lost. An image, on the other hand, can present the significant research findings in a direct and obvious manner.

With the technological advancements we have today, acquiring and enhancing scientific images to help people better connect with research has become possible which enables us researchers to focus on the important aspects and get the young generation curious and excited about research.

A picture is guaranteed to catch more attention than words, this is referred to as the Picture Superiority Effect. As scientists, we need to do more to make science accessible and art is definitely a useful tool in this pursuit.

  1. How do you think the nexus between art and scientific research can be further explored to educate people and make them more interested in pursuing research?

To someone with no science or research experience, a picture will always be more interesting than a graph. Even if they don’t understand the picture, it is likely to spark curiosity and push them to find out what the picture is about. Art is one of the tools that can be used to bridge the gap between science and society. Every research has a set of unique findings and results. Sharing the outcomes with all the stakeholders, especially young minds is important to educate, inform, and inspire them.

People can be inspired to take more interest in research by capturing their attention through research outcomes. Attention marketing is an effective marketing strategy that has helped to market products successfully to a large number of people in a very short period of time through visuals in social media. Promoting research outcomes through artistically enhanced images and visuals in a similar manner can help in attracting young minds towards research.

  1. Congratulations on winning the BRIO competition for this year. What was your rationale behind selecting this image, how does it relate to your research, and why do you think it got the most votes?

As material scientists, our research involves developing novel lightweight biodegradable materials whose degradation response can be controlled through microstructure engineering. Our research image that won the BRIO award is a CT scan of a biodegradable metal implanted in a femur to support bone fracture healing.

In its original form, the CT scan image is a binary black and white image with very little contrast difference between the bone and implant material. However, we have used visual aids to highlight the biodegraded implant material surrounded by the healed bone. This shows that the material can degrade in a controlled manner and support the bone until healing is complete and does not cause any adverse reaction in its immediate nearby area.

We think that the possible reason our image got the maximum number of votes is the closeness of the research that benefits human bone fracture management with a tangible outcome, aided by the ease of understanding of the image through visual enhancement.

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