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Geneticist brings art exhibit about ethical questions of science to U-M

By Colleen Newvine / News and Information Services
Artwork of Hunter O'Reilly
Using plexiglass and neon, Hunter O'Reilly and Electric Eye Neon constructed "Ebola is Beautiful" (above). O'Reilly spans a life in "Let My Family Live! Portrait of Randolfe Wicker, the First Human Cloning Activist" (below). O'Reilly's exhibit, "Radioactive Biohazard: Benefits of Biotechnology," comes to U-M through Sept. 26.

Digital art using microscopic images of deadly diseases and oil paintings about human cloning—this is what happens when a geneticist combines her scientific background with her artistic talents.

Hunter O’Reilly, who has a doctorate in genetics, has shown her artistic reinterpretations of science internationally. She explores sensitive and topical themes of biotechnology and genetics with her latest exhibit, “Radioactive Biohazard: Benefits of Biotechnology,” which comes to U-M through Sept. 26. Her visit will include a gallery tour and reception Sept. 20 and a genetics seminar Sept. 23.

“Too many people have irrational fears of biotechnology,” O’Reilly says. “Without scientists working to share their perspectives, it is too easy for Albert Einstein to be mistaken for Dr. Frankenstein.”

Elizabeth Petty, a well-known human geneticist at U-M, first proposed bringing O’Reilly’s work to campus as a way of reaching out to diverse audiences and stimulating discussions about scientific issues that influence our lives. Art is accessible in a way that academic lectures might not be, she says.

“There’s a lot of information and oftentimes, misinformation, as well as a lot of hope and hype about what science can and will do for us. Innovative ways in which we can encourage thought-provoking conversations about frontiers in science are generally good,” says Petty, an associate professor of genetics who majored in art history as an undergraduate.

O’Reilly’s art has appeared in more than 20 scientific publications, including the covers of Nature Reviews Genetics and Trends in Ecology and Evolution. As a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, she created a course called Biology Through Art, where students create art in a biology laboratory.

Hunter O'Reilly art

As part of Radioactive Biohazard, O’Reilly collaborated with art team Electric Eye Neon to create sculptures with animal bones and neon and to highlight images of deadly viruses with neon.

The exhibit will appear at the Warren Robbins Gallery at the U-M School of Art and Design, 2000 Bonisteel Blvd. on U-M’s North Campus, (734) 936-2082. Hours are

9 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The gallery talk is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 20 at the Warren Robbins Gallery. A map of North Campus is available at'.

The genetics seminar is planned for 4 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Department of Human Genetics, 5915 Buhl Building on U-M’s Medical Campus. A reception will precede the talk at 3:45 p.m. in room 4933, the Human Genetics lounge. A map is at: and the Buhl Building is at the rear of the Medical Science II building.

All events are free and open to the public.

O’Reilly’s visit is presented by the Life Sciences Values and Society Program, which aims to foster public debate about the ethical questions raised by developments in the life sciences and to better understand how those discoveries affect thinking and activities in all spheres of human life.

Cosponsors are: the Department of Human Genetics; Gifts of Art, U-M Health System; Health Science Scholars Program; the Life Sciences Institute; Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Artist Series at the School of Art and Design; Program in Culture, Health and Medicine; Public Health Genetics Program; the Science, Technology and Society Program; Students Exploring the Life Sciences and Society; the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program; and the Women in Science and Engineering Residence Program.

Visit O’Reilly’s Web site,, to see her artwork, read her biography and learn more about how she combines science and art. Information about the upcoming show is at

For more information about the exhibit and events at U-M, contact Aaron Goldenberg at (734) 936-2575,

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