Skip to main content

To contextualise the lens presented on scientific work, let’s quickly revisit STEM in a nutshell:  STEM is a program designed to integrate and apply Science and Mathematics to solve real world problems creating and using technological solutions – applying an engineering design approach.

And STEAM?  While STEM programs don’t actively exclude arts, they have tended to be included as incidental to engineering applications.  While in fact Art adds value in various ways for example in product design, visual and language arts, social and historical study – the foundation for the engineering challenges; STEM is really focused on developing science and math through engineering.  With STEAM, art is taken on as an applied subject, as we do Science & Math, resulting in a holistic solution in STEM learning.  With interesting impacts in science.  But first what does this look like in practicality, how can we apply Art in the STEAM?  How does it translate?

Its starts with Design and through industrial design students create and improve product appearance and usability of the product created in the project.  Students will use art in computer graphics creating logos for comms and presentations.  With performing arts supporting technical and persuasive writing.  There is creative planning involved as they brainstorm solutions to engineering problems – this encourages an innovative, inventive and artistic approach with right brain engagement.  It activates innovative thinking.  The purpose of art in STEAM is not to assume that STEM students lack creativity and require the skill, anything but, it is more about teaching how to apply art, innovation, in real life situations.  Art in STEAM too adds to the intrigue of STEM, and inspires students to enjoy all the related subjects, developing the variety in skills that are needed in 4IR – problem solving with critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation.  Innovative teamwork for problem solving.

In an example of how powerful the introduction of Art in STEAM is in science, in a paper titled STEAM: Using the Arts to Train Well-Rounded and Creative Scientists, the authors discuss the “visual, spatial, and graphical arts as STEAM” noting that “from our first cell diagram drawings in primary school to the advanced visualizations that illuminate our community’s journals, visual literacy is an essential tool in learning and communicating biology. Historically, drawing was assumed to be part of the biology student’s and professional’s toolbox (1). Today’s visual arts STEAM initiatives are the heirs of those learning traditions—many incorporate explicit notes of aesthetics, visual literacy, and communication. These initiatives have wide-spanning benefits: broader access and inclusion in STEM, enhanced learning of scientific concepts, building technical skills that are underserved in the curriculum, and enhancing students’ mastery of design and cross-disciplinary collaboration (2).

STEM disciplines, as both professions and practices, are functionally dependent on visual modes of problem solving and communication, including schematics, symbolic logic, scientific illustration, and photography (13). STEAM projects recognize the value of art as not simply a vehicle for scientific content, but as a complementary contribution. For example, many STEAM projects recalibrate the typical relationship between science and illustration, resulting in images of scientific phenomena that mutually exalt STEM and artistic merit (46). Similarly, the proliferation of STEAM scientific image contests speaks to the power of art as a pathway to attract participation and interest in STEM (710).

Although scientific illustration is a familiar platform for STEAM, it is not the only model for productive scientific–artistic collaborations. Visual, spatial, and graphic arts have the potential to reveal science and culture in distinct ways that are complementary to our traditional ways of understanding science (211). Fostered through artist residencies as well as individual initiatives, STEAM efforts are yielding visual and spatial art that turns a new lens on the structure of scientific work (21213). For example, art can reinterpret scientific themes, providing us with new ways to look at our understanding of the natural universe—from finding new ways to visualize oceanic data that reveal the impact of climate change on marine life (14) to new points of view on the microscopic from artists shadowing scientists at the lab bench (15). Art can also make scientific thought and culture relevant to a broad audience. The arresting visual depiction of the intersection of synthetic biology with urban design and human reproduction (16) or of research life in the arctic provides a “hook,” to both scientists and nonscientists, to pause, look closer, and reflect (1617). For these reasons, STEAM among scientists and visual/spatial artists has been particularly fruitful in three domains: helping science become accessible and inclusive; clarifying the meaning of scientific concepts and culture; and fostering collaborative works in which scientific and aesthetic components are mutually enhanced (2).

STEM as STEAM is the evolution we have needed to embrace the technological developments driving the changing society we now inhabit.

Looking for ways to excite your students about STEAM classes? Click here and check out our Inspire S.T.E.A.M. programme that uses drone technology to bring these subjects alive.

The following are the references to the extract in the above – for the full paper please click here.

1. Bethke EG. Basic drawing for biology students. Charles C Thomas Publisher; Springfield, IL: 1969.[Google Scholar]

2. Bequette JW, Bequette MB. A place for ART and DESIGN education in the STEM conversation. Art Educ. 2012;March:40–47. [Google Scholar]

3. Quillin K, Thomas S. Drawing-to-learn: a framework for using drawings to promote model-based reasoning in biology. CBE Life Sci Educ. 2015;14(1):1–16. doi: 10.1187/cbe.14-08-0128.[PMC free article] [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

4. Hertzberg J. Flow visualization. [Accessed: 27 December 2016]. [Online.]

5. Goodsell DS, Klionsky DJ. Artophagy: the art of autophagy—the CVT pathway. Autophagy. 2010;6(1):3–6. doi: 10.4161/auto.6.1.10812. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

6. Hinchliffe G. Artists in the Antarctic. Pacific Standard. 2015. [Accessed 27 December 2016]. [Online.]

7. The 15th anniversary Vizzies visualization challenge: the most beautiful visualizations from the worlds of science and engineering. National Science Foundation; [Accessed 27 December 2016]. [Online.] [Google Scholar]

8. Art of Science Contest. Biophysical Society; [Accessed 27 December 2016]. [Online.] [Google Scholar]

9. Alvarez-Garcia I. Celldance videos at ASCB 2016. PLOS Biologue. 2016. [Accessed 27 December 2016]. [Online.]

10. Small World Photomicography Competition. Nikon’s small world. [Online.] 2016. [Accessed 27 December 2016].

11. Robelen E. STEAM: experts make the case for adding arts to STEM. Educ Week. 2011;31(13):8.[Google Scholar]

12. Haussmann B. Photo video sound | The nucleus project – diptychs. Bernd Haussmann Studio. 2015. [Accessed 24 November 2016]. [Online].

13. Assembly Space. Broad Institute. [Online] 2016. [Accessed 6 September 2016].

14. Maeda J. STEM + Art = STEAM. STEAM J. 2013;1(1):1–3. doi: 10.5642/steam.201301.34.[CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

15. Art of Science Participants. LIGO Project. [Online.] 2016. [Accessed 6 September 2016].

16. Anker S. Petri[e]’s Panoply. Antennae J Nat Vis Cult. 2015;(34):5–16. [Google Scholar]

17. Webb S. My season with penguins: an Antarctic journal. HMH Books for Young Readers; Boston, MA: 2004. [Google Scholar]

One Comment

Leave a Reply