Awards and Supporters
A leap from art to science.

Like all kids, I loved to draw and make and mess around in the mud. But the pairing of science and art in the National Geographic magazine on the table in my childhood home was the spark for a lifelong interest in paleoanthropology.

Fossils from the Great Rift Valley hinted at our ancient origins, but the story came in bits and pieces and much speculation. Where do we come from? Will we ever find out? I wanted to know.

Most of us drift from creative play to serious work but thank goodness I kept drawing and making right through school and into college. I graduated with a degree in studio arts from the University of Minnesota.

I built an illustration and design business with diverse clients and projects in Minneapolis, but none touched on science. So, on off hours, I tracked the progress of the Human Genome Project—exciting stuff, but will scientists sequence everyone’s DNA? Could I get my DNA sequenced?

An opportunity appeared in 2005 from the Genographic Project. I ordered the kit, used the swab, sent my sample, and eagerly waited for the report, wondering— what ancient stories would my modern DNA reveal?

The report showing my Northern European ancestry was no surprise. But the potential for genomics to expand the ancient human story was exhilarating. I had to be part of the adventure. What could I contribute?

I started to write and draw to explain the science of the magnificent genome. My first body of work is the DNA Portraits; some are shown here. Since 2005, I’ve attended scientific conferences and subscribed to journals—slowly morphing into a genome-literate autodidact.

I didn’t learn alone. Many people supported my leap from art and design for commerce to the world of biology and genomics.

Awards and supporters

I’m grateful for the many opportunities to work with amazing people at the universities, foundations, and institutes supporting my work. 

Geneticist Perry Hackett is my mentor. A geneticist and professor at the UMN always encourages my work, guides my education, and connects me to experts and resources. Susan Baechler, CEO of Originaliti, is my big-picture thinker and imagining collaborator.

I’ve shown my work and attended meetings at Cold Spring Harbor Lab (CSHL) with the generosity of Dr. David Stewart, executive director of meetings and courses. Ludmila Pollock, director of the CHSL library, encouraged me to apply for her artist-in-residence program. I got the grant, lived on campus, interviewed plant biologists, and published “Decoding Plant Genomes” about their research.

Geneticist Susanne Gollin and Genetic Counselor Judith Benkendorf offered opportunities and art patronage. Anthropologist Irma McClaurin championed the University of Minnesota commission for my DNA Portrait Exhibit

As a Fulbright Senior Scholar to Israel, I collaborated with Dr. Dan Mishmar, an evolutionary geneticist at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, to develop an animated video about his research.

Another opportunity came from the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). It was a National Science Foundation (NSF) think tank for innovative, cross-disciplinary, evolutionary research at Duke University. I was granted a six-month residency to develop interactive media about genomics and human evolution.

During my residency at NESCent, I was with a working group led by Dr. Nina Jablonski and Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. We developed curricula for middle school students connecting their genetic ancestry with a family history that received funding from the NSF and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

The grants led to several successful, ongoing programs: the “Genetics and Genealogy” curricula for undergraduates at Spelman College and the “Finding Your Roots” summer camp for teens at Penn State University. I designed interactive media for the programs: a digital book for Spelman and a visualization tool for Penn State.

Skin We Are In,” a book about the evolution of human skin color, is another collaboration with Nina Jablonski. It celebrates the “glorious human rainbow” with the science written by Nina and artwork by me.

Working with the Bioinformatics scientists at Be the Match was an advanced course on the HLA immune system. I made two videos explaining their research: You can watch “Genetic Ancestry for a Better Match” here and  “Meet the Bioinformatics Group” here.


I’m a member of the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), the Philosophical Society of Washington, D.C. (PSW), and the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG).

Proud to be one of the founding members of the Genome Writers Guild (GWG) — a scientific organization building a better future for humanity through genome engineering and public outreach.