Mural project offers arts access to science students


A unique collaboration between students, faculty and local artists is bringing a vibrant mural related to the field of nuclear engineering to the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus this spring.

The interdisciplinary mural project was sparked by U-M faculty and graduate students in the sciences seeking creative, hands-on art-making outlets beyond their research.

Recognizing an increasing demand from the U-M scientific community to incorporate artistic elements into its work, the U-M Arts Initiative identified an unmet need for greater cross-disciplinary collaboration and access to arts resources within science, technology, engineering and math fields on campus.

Through this mural project and a cross-departmental partnership with the College of Engineering’s Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences, the Arts Initiative is co-creating unconventional arts opportunities for STEM students.

“Our core mission in the Arts Initiative is to activate, energize and inspire creativity across the whole campus ecosystem, not only where the arts might be typically found … but in areas of campus where the arts bring new modes of thinking and creative problem-solving skills to enhance research and learning,” said Mark Clague, interim executive director of the Arts Initiative.

“We are especially excited to connect the arts with health care, science, technology, engineering and other disciplines to help the whole campus be more creative, expressive and joyous.”

Todd Allen, the Glenn F. and Gladys H. Knoll Department Chair of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences, met with the Arts Initiative staff about incorporating art into his curriculum. That vision became a reality this semester as his “Intro to Nuclear Engineering” course tasked students to contribute to a mural facilitated by Michigan-based artists Josh Rainer and Devin Wright.

“This mural, showcasing the rich history of NERS, stands as a daily reminder for our students, aiding me in achieving both objectives,” said Allen, who also is the Chihiro Kikuchi Collegiate Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences and professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences.

The Arts Initiative matched NERS with Rainer and Wright, who applied for the project as a duo, and they worked with students to develop imagery that visually represents their scientific work. The resulting mural will be installed in the tunnel connecting the department’s two main buildings on North Campus.

Photo of neuroscience grad students creating monoprints at a workshop last summer
Neuroscience graduate students create monoprints at a workshop led by Ann Arbor artist Sajeev Visweswaram last summer. (Photo by Alison Rivett)

Another unique partnership with the Arts Initiative brings the arts into the Neuroscience Graduate Program. A group of 14 neuroscience students participated in a printmaking workshop last summer with Ann Arbor artist Sajeev Visweswaran, and requested another opportunity for art-making this year.

In May, local artist Katie Hammond will facilitate an image-making workshop for the neuroscience graduate students, connecting participants to both personal and professional “Heroes and Icons.” Their work will then be displayed at the annual departmental conference this spring.

“I think the arts are part of the very fabric of our way of knowing and communicating what we know about ourselves, our science and the world around us,” said Keith Duncan, associate professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery and of molecular and integrative physiology, and associate director of the Neuroscience Graduate Program.

“Our neuroscience students are musicians and graphic artists, crafters and writers, dancers and actors. To us, programs like the Arts Initiative help our students exercise these muscles and bring their whole selves to their academic lives.”

Other recent art-making partnerships with the Arts Initiative have included a printmaking workshop with the School of Dentistry, crochet and embroidery workshops with the “Gifts of Art” program at Michigan Medicine, a poetry workshop with the Marsal Family School of Education, and a colored-glass creation workshop in partnership with the School of Kinesiology’s diversity, equity and inclusion program.

The Arts Initiative also supports units through funding to develop their own arts programs. The new Arts Initiative Project Support grant program increases arts access and activity across campus and in the region. The deadline to apply for funding for projects taking place during fall 2024 is April 8. Learn more or apply.

Units or departments interested in developing a custom arts project or creating an interdisciplinary arts project that integrates art and STEM or other disciplines should contact Alison Rivett at


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