A collaboration of Friends: Artists and Scientists on a learning Journey

Wednesday 13 May 2020

Dr Samantha Pitt is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Medicine here at the University of St Andrews, and investigates the molecular mechanisms of heart failure and arrhythmia. Sam had not actively engaged in art, since she was 14, however in 2016 when Sam met Sophie, that was all about to change. Sophie McKay Knight (Instagram: @studiosophie2016; @paintingthetarot) is a visual artist, who back in 2016, started the Chrysalis project which went on to win the Wellcome Image Awards in 2017. This project shone a light on some of the silent hurdles faced by women in science. This is where she met Sam. Sam explained that the term ‘women in science’ wasn’t a label that sat comfortably. Thus, in order to learn from each other Sam invited Sophie into her lab to see what her science is and that she’s more than a ‘woman in science’ but a scientist who happens to be a woman. Sophie was then able to meet and chat to the lab team, and see the variety and methods behind the research conducted in the lab. From here a friendship blossomed and they tried to keep in touch.

Sophie always felt that what they had started in this project was not finished, and reconnecting at the 2019 Pitenweem Arts Festival, Sam and Sophie initiated a science and art collaboration, with the purpose of learning and enjoying the journey.  One of the biggest things that both Sam and Sophie reported to have learnt was how similar the journey of an artist and a scientist is. Firstly, to become an artist or scientist the work you do is a topic or interest that you love and enjoy going to work everyday. Additionally, the process of an artist and a scientist is very similar. That you start with a question or hypothesis, read and research around the topic and area, and often have no ideas what the final results will be at the beginning of the journey, but that the results will open up more questions and avenues to explore. As Sophie said repeatedly “we’re all on a journey”.

They also noted that even when you are an artist or scientist, that there is a lifetime of short-term contracts and finding new funding, new collaborations, and new job opportunities. And that individuals often have extra side hustles!

The core of this project is true public engagement as this collaboration has a mutually beneficial two-way learning process. It allows both of them to see their work and contribution in a different light. It is also a good opportunity for Sam’s PhD students and post docs to explain their research to someone outside of the science world and to also see science being used in a different way. For example, one of Sam’s PhD students, Amy Dorward investigates the irreparability of heart cells after damage. As Sophie explored this artistically and has created images about being broken hearted and having your heart on your sleeve. These pictures use the images from the research.


After the lockdown, the plan is for Sam’s lab to visit Sophie’s studio and for the collaboration to evolve and continue organically. However currently, both are seeing where this takes them with no final end goal in sight, but more focussing on the journey and learning experience.

Even though they are at the beginning of this collaboration and no final works have been produced or exhibited yet (even though this is a future hope), Sam and Sophie thoroughly enjoy this collaboration for what it is – a collaboration and adventure with no bounds. They both say that if you have a desire, not to feel inhibited to approach people outside of your work sphere as the chances are, if you’re passionate about your research, they will be too!

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