Andrea Ottesen , University of Maryland PhD candidate, plant sciences
What is your art experience?
Ottesen: I have always done art - I do some commercial graphic art for plant science related efforts. I have many projects going on all the time. Since I was young, I have painted and drawn and more recently done photography. When I was young, people were a primary source of inspiration to my art,.but more recently it has become plants, plants, plants! - and other scientific concepts related to plant science and natural resource management.
How did you start doing plant art?
Ottesen: This particular "herbarium style," of the winning entry, was inspired when I worked at the National Arboretum in the herbarium (library of dried plant specimens). I put the National Arboretum type specimens on line and set up an imaging room to digitally image all the beautiful history of cultivated plants they have stored there in the herbarium.
At some point - with my own herbarium collections - I began to attempt to retrieve characteristics of dried plants that had been lost in the drying process - the color and flower form - I started doing more with this and an art form blossomed.
My work with Dr. Jim Duke (retired USDA ethnobotanist) has also been, among other things, illustration of medicinal plant species and concepts for various audiences and publications. We currently have two books in the works - Latin American Medicinal Plants and The Amazonian Ethnobotanical Dictionary ed.2.
How did you create your winning NSF picture?
Ottesen: The picture was created after collecting seaweed off the coast of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia . I pressed it and then photographed it and immediately fell in love with it, and I am so thrilled that someone else did too.
Why do science and art mix?
Ottesen: Great science will always be made accessible to so many more people through great art.
What will you do after you receive your PhD?
Ottesen: I want to focus on public and environmental health issues and their intersection with crop and horticultural land management practices. I will also continue to work with economic and medicinal crops/plants of the tropics.
I'd like to find a cool job where I have a lab and can continue to investigate questions related to microbial metagenomics of agricultural crops and surrounding ecosystems. With metagenomics, we take the DNA from the surface of apples and leaves, for example, and instead of sequencing just one gene that will tell us about the diversity present, we sequence everything we can in the environment and this can give us a more comprehensive understanding of the genetic potential of the environment. Also from a horticultural perspective, for instance, can farmers grow organic fruit in Maryland (apples and Asian pears) and make a profit?
You've done some work dedicated to some professors at Maryland. What are some of those pieces?
Ottesen: (Above, left to right) A soybean plant (Glycine max) created to celebrate the soy breeding work of our department chair Dr. William Kenworthy...
...Agalinas acuta was created to represent the Conservation Genetics work of one our professors - Dr. Maile Neel - with the Federally endangered species...
....The wheat piece was created to represent the work that many of our scientists do with wheat. For example Dr. Arvydas Grybauskas works with diseases of wheat & Dr. Jose Costa works with breeding...
...And the Gala apple was created to describe the work of Dr. Chris Walsh with the "cracking" phenomenon in Gala apples.
Do you hope to do more with your art skills and science experience?
Ottesen: Absolutely - I live and breathe to study plants and to create art that I hope will contribute to a continually expanding environmental awareness and action to manage the treasure we are lucky enough to be living on at this incredible moment in time.
See an interview with Andrea in American Scientist.
See more of Andrea Ottesen's botanical art
See the bug photos by Professor David Yager, a 2006 winner.
See the 2004 first place visualization of a bat capturing an insect, by Professor Cynthia Moss and Kaushik Ghose, Ph.D. (Scroll down.)