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It’s not every day that you get to see the inner workings of the brain or get up close with a fly thought to be extinct for 100 years that was recently spotted in Hobart.

T he work of scientists too often remains hidden but the inaugural Magnified science art exhibition gave visitors an insight into this exciting world of research.

Organised by PhD candidate and artist Rachelle Balez and science writer and research assistant Clare Watson, the exhibition was an invitation to explore the beauty and breadth of cutting-edge research that happens across the Illawarra.

Balez was inspired to share the creativity of her colleagues and Watson wanted to pay tribute to her research supervisor Associate Professor Justin Yerbury. Together, the pair curated a collection of 55 stunning images for the exhibition, hosted at UOW’s TAEM gallery in July.

It featured artworks from neuroscientists, chemists, engineers, microbiologists, environmental and materials scientists from the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI), University of Wollongong, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District and BlueScope Steel.

A diverse and surprising collection, the artworks were images captured down the microscope, in the lab or out in the field, with a few abstract data-inspired pieces in the mix as well.

“We wanted to showcase the inherent beauty that is often overlooked in research, bypassed by the number-crunching and outcomes of the work,” says Balez. “The artworks created a way for visitors of all ages to engage with the story behind the research.”

The pair were overwhelmed by the response, with hundreds of visitors to the exhibition in two weeks.

“We had staff and students from Creative Arts say that they had never seen an exhibition like this before and most of the scientists involved had never ventured to the Creative Arts building – but that door for collaboration is wide open with a project like this. Science and art are more alike than you think.”

Importantly, the exhibition was also an opportunity to honour Associate Professor Justin Yerbury, leading research scientist and Wollongong local.

Internationally renowned, Yerbury has dedicated his life to understanding motor neurone disease (MND) since it first struck his family two decades ago. MND is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that insidiously robs people of their strength, mobility and independence.

Yerbury has put MND under the microscope, revealing how the disease spreads from cell to cell in the brain and spinal cord. He was diagnosed with MND in 2016 and, under circumstances that would deter most people, has continued his work with students and colleagues at IHMRI.

“Ultimately, we wanted to pay tribute to Justin and his contributions to MND research,” Watson says. “He is a leader in his field but what stands out is his commitment to mentoring young scientists.”

The exhibition raised over $10,000 from the sale of artworks which will be used to establish the Justin Yerbury Travel Scholarships. Four scholarships will be awarded to young and talented MND researchers to enable them to attend the MND Association’s International Symposium on MND in 2018 and 2019.

“What that means is the opportunity to share their work on an international stage, to meet collaborators and keep in touch with advances in their scientific field,” Balez explains.

Since the exhibition, the artworks have found new homes across the Illawarra, made their way to parliamentarians’ offices in Canberra and have been on display at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) electron microscope facility.

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