Chemistry graduate students use virtual zine to bridge gap between arts and science

Photos of people at a virtual meeting, all smiling, one wearing a mask.
The Benzine editorial board includes top row from left: Danica Gressel (Fredrickson), Philip Lampkin (Gellman) and Sophya Alamudun (Choi), bottom row from left: Robin Morgenstern (Pazicni), Jairo Villalona (Buller) and Ray Czerwinski (Goldsmith). | Photo submitted by Philip Lampkin

By Aadhishre Kasat
Department Communications & Undergraduate Researcher (Buller)

Although art and science are often viewed as unrelated ventures, over the years their coexistence has been realized as more compatible than immiscible. Graduate students from the Department of Chemistry, through their recently established art and literary magazine, are advocating for this interdisciplinary approach and the benefits it renders. The Benzine, besides being a great pun, is a platform for the Chemistry community to share their art, build a sense of community and alleviate stress.

The idea of the zine was first brought to fruition by Philip Lampkin, a graduate student in the Gellman group.

“I’ve always been a strong believer in the pursuit and development of all of one’s passions,” Lampkin said. “This belief was further cemented when I started graduate school. Through conversations with my colleagues, I realized all the brilliant chemists around me contained within them significant artistic abilities I would’ve never imagined.”

Lampkin soon shared this idea with others, who are now on the editorial board: Danica Gressel (Fredrickson), Robin Morgenstern (Pazicni), Ray Czerwinski (Goldsmith), Jairo Villalona (Buller), and Sophya Alamudun (Choi).

Embracing the interdisciplinarity nature of science and art has positively influenced both the chemist and artist within members of the Chemistry community.

“There’s definitely still a stereotype that scientists can’t be artists and vice versa,” said Ray Czerwinski, a graduate student in the Goldsmith group. “As a musician and a writer, I’ve always felt a strong connection to the arts, but I kept it separate from science. While working on the zine, I realized that by nurturing my creativity, I am polishing skills that will help me find success as a scientist. The Benzine is a small part of the growing movement to celebrate the intersection of those creativities, and I think that’s an important message for scientists anywhere.”

While working on the zine, board members realized that by developing their artistic skills, they are also enhancing their science communication skills.

“I have been able to better assess the effectiveness of my figures and analogies and understand the importance of storytelling in science,” said Jairo Villalona, a graduate student in the Buller group.

The Benzine has materialized as a creative outlet for many board members and has positively impacted their mental health.

“Previously, when I hit a wall in my research, it was very easy to feel burnt out, but working on the zine keeps me grounded and makes me feel like I have something important to contribute to when my research isn’t going well,” said Sophya Alamudun, a graduate student in the Choi group.

By distributing The Benzine, board members were able to extend the community they built into the Department and instill values of inclusivity and diversity. After the release of the first publication, they received many messages from readers expressing their gratitude for the zine.

Browsing through the artwork and names made many readers feel closer to people they had previously only crossed in hallways or spoken to in passing.

“When I first came to graduate school, I started questioning my decisions and second-guessing myself, but then The Benzine came and showed me that I can establish a community within the Department and feel valid and appreciated,” said Danica Gressel, a graduate student in the Fredrickson group, led by Professor of Chemistry Danny Fredrickson. “I think The Benzine connects folks that would otherwise not be connected and opens gateways for scientific and artistic collaborations.”

The board had initially planned to do a paper zine, but they adopted an electronic version due to the pandemic.

“Distributing the zine online ended up being a blessing in disguise because it allowed us to distribute on Twitter and accept audio/visual art formats which we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to accept,” said Robin Morgenstern, a graduate student in the Pazicni group, a chemistry education group led by Professor of Chemistry Sam Pazicni.

Moving forward, the students plan to continue distributing The Benzine electronically to continue accepting all art forms. They also plan to increase their social media presence to reach more audiences and inspire other Departments and campuses to take similar initiatives.