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Science as Poetry

At the heart of a liberal arts education is the intersection of science and art. In his new book, Elements of Chance, Art Stewart, adjunct professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, presents science-flavored poems for scientists.

“Poetry and science are not at odds with one another,” Stewart says. “Rather, these two great constructs support each other, arm in arm.”

Evidence of the interconnectedness exists in several forms – from the patterns of a pinecone that match those of the Fibonacci sequence to using high-powered equipment to examine the beginning of the universe or life itself. Science and poetry, or art in any form, requires humans to use all five senses to examine and observe in order to come to a conclusion.

“The task of communicating science through poetry has been challenging because many scientists ignore poetry and many poets, insofar as possible, avoid science,” Stewart says.

One opportunity for students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, to examine the beauty of science through poetry is the ORISE Science Poetry Contest.

STEM is a familiar phrase to most people, but a new acronym is gaining momentum: STEAM, or science, technology, engineering, ART, and math. To recognize this interconnectedness, ORISE is sponsoring a science-poetry competition during April, which is also National Poetry Month.

“I’ve been at the task of trying to nudge science a bit closer to the arts, and the arts a bit closer to the sciences, for nearly 20 years, through poetry,” Stewart says. “I look forward to seeing what the students come up with and hope our EEB students take this opportunity to participate.”

The contest is open to all high school and university students. Visit the website to learn more.