Sunday, January 13, 2013

Arts & Extras: Science is art in Va. Tech exhibit

Arts & Extras column

Mike Allen, arts and culture columnist

Mike Allen, arts columnist

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Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is putting on an art show.

"The Art of Science," which opens Monday in the university's Armory Art Gallery, aims to show how the microscopic images scientists generate in the course of their research can double as works of art.

The photographs look like abstract art but also in many instances represent some phenomenon in nature that's being captured visually for the first time.

Narrating a video of slides that accompanies the show, associate professor Justin Barone with the Department of Biological Systems Engineering puts it this way: "These aren't just microscopic images. They're easels that paint a story."

Barone's own contribution is a black-and-white photo of objects that resemble clusters of rose petals.

What they are, in fact, are sheets of protein molecules. Scientists understand how molecules are formed, but "what we don't understand is how nature puts molecules together to build stuff."

In the laboratory, Barone was able to create the sheets and get them to curl up into tubes, and the photo captures that process in progress.

"The tube is what we want because nature can use those" - for example, as blood vessels, he said.

One of the ultimate purposes of Barone's research is to create biodegradable building materials that could be substituted for plastics.

Other images in the show, resembling colorful abstract paintings, turn out to depict mouse brain cells, fungus, pig blood vessels, heifer mammary tissue, shrimp internal organs, tobacco plant cells and the first-ever publicly released image of a tiny beetle. The images result from efforts by the faculty to better understand plant, animal and human health problems and make improvements to agricultural industries.

"We wanted to expose the public, students and other researchers to the creative work our faculty members are doing, and these images are an approachable and fascinating way to teach people about our research," said Saied Mostaghimi, associate dean of research and academics for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

"Art is something that surprises us, that makes us think," said gallery curator Deb Sim. She said that when she saw the images, "there were questions and surprises and that's where it becomes art for me."

The Armory Art Gallery, 203 Draper Road, is open noon to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. "The Art of Science" will be on display through Jan. 31. For more information, call 231-5417 or visit

RCT at Radford

Lucinda McDermott Piro, a writer, teacher and actress in Radford, recently saw Roanoke Children's Theatre's touring production of "Eric & Elliot," a play that tackles weighty issues such as depression and teen suicide, at Hidden Valley High School in Roanoke County.

She saw the play in part for the same reason any parent would -- her son, Dante, 16, plays one of the main roles. Yet she was so impressed with the script written by Dwayne Hartford and the way the play delivers its message that she conducted a successful $600 fundraiser to bring "Eric & Elliot" to the Radford High School auditorium. "I felt that it was crucial to bring it to the New River Valley," she said.

The free performance, which is open to the public, takes place at 7 p.m. Thursday.

"Eric and Elliot" is recommended for students in grades 6 through 12 and their parents or guardians. There will be an hour-long talkback with mental health professionals after the play ends. Piro said the play shouldn't just be seen by those coping with depression.

"This play will help your kids who are fine be a better peer to a friend who is struggling."

For more information, call 239-3026.

RCT's regular season performances of "Eric & Elliot" take place Feb. 28 to March 3 at the Taubman Theatre in the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke. Tickets are $18, children 3-18 and senior citizens $12. For more information, call 309-6802 or visit

State grant workshops

The Virginia Commission for the Arts is holding a series of free workshops to provide assistance with filling out grant applications. Deadlines to apply for the various commission grants are March 1 and April 1.

Workshops in Southwest Virginia will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Alleghany Highlands Arts & Crafts Center at 439 East Ridgeway St. in Clifton Forge; 10 a.m. Thursday at Heartwood, 1 Heartwood Circle in Abingdon; and 10 a.m. Jan. 23 at Piedmont Arts Association, 215 Starling Ave. in Martinsville.

Participants are asked to download the 2013-2014 Online Guidelines for Funding and relevant applications to bring to the workshop at

Auditions to note

Attic Productions will hold auditions for the comedy "Adam's Eve" by Matthew Carlin from 3 to 5 p.m. Jan. 26 and Jan. 27 at D. Geraldine Lawson Performing Arts Center, 7490 Roanoke Road in Fincastle. The play has roles for three women and two men ages 20 to 30 and two women and two men ages 50 to 70.

Performances will take place March 21-23 and 28-30. For more information, call Ninette Cox at 567-2007 or 520-4701.

Mill Mountain Theatre will hold auditions 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 26 for the musical "The Marvelous Wonderettes." Roles are available for three women. Auditions take place on the Waldron Stage in Center in the Square's building at 20 Church St. S.E. in Roanoke.

All auditioners must be able to play roles in the 18-to-28 age range, and should bring sheet music in the key and music style of the show. Headshots and resumes should be sent to to set up an audition appointment. Please type "Roanoke audition" in the email subject line.

"The Marvelous Wonderettes" will be performed April 24 to May 12 on the Trinkle Main Stage in Center's Campbell Avenue building. The musical makes use of pop songs from the 1950s and 1960s such as "Lollipop" and "It's My Party." For more information, visit

On the Arts blog

The Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg will hold a reception and a screening of "Side by Side: The Science Art and Impact of Digital Cinema" 6 p.m. Thursday to support its $120,000 fundraising campaign to convert to digital projection. To read more, visit

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