Jennifer Ma, a PhD candidate in Biomedical Engineering, had always been intrigued by both arts and science, but she never thought she could pursue both. This changed when she joined the hand-lettering community on Instagram in 2016.
The community consists of artists who host and participate in hand-lettering challenges, such as creating theme-based lettering art. Casual calligraphy enthusiasts and experts alike take part.
Shortly after Ma got involved, Melissa Nguyen, a fellow calligrapher on Instagram, reached out to her about starting a new science-based lettering challenge — from there, STEAMotype was created.
STEAMotype is an Instagram-based lettering challenge inspired by science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM). The goal of the project is to engage people, especially those who do not have science backgrounds, with STEM topics and bring awareness to those fields through art.
“We really enjoy science, or STEAM, in general and really enjoy doing these challenges, so why don’t we do one that combines both?” asked Ma. She believes that the STEAM angle brings a unique dimension to the project because art gives a human touch to the scientific topics that it depicts. “It reminds people that science, or STEM, or technology, is not just some cold, heartless thing… It’s actually real people who have real talents and passions, and creativity, making things to make people’s lives better.”
The STEAMotype Instagram account posts challenge prompts covering an array of science topics, from astronomy to zoology. Those interested in participating can submit their work by posting with the hashtag #STEAMotype. Featured submissions are given captions containing more information about the science behind the art.
“When [our followers] see something interesting, we hope that the first reaction would be ‘Oh wow, that’s really cool!’ and then they would follow up with ‘I wonder what’s the story behind it?’ and they would read the caption [to find out],” said Ma.
“If you’re somebody who’s not looking for [STEM content], then you’ll never get exposed to it,” explained Ma. “So what we’re hoping to do is basically use the art to attract people who are not specifically looking for this content and use that to make them stay for the science.”
Occasionally, the Instagram account will be taken over by guest experts who help curate specific, science-related themes.
Moving forward, STEAMotype will work to further expand its team, which now consists of Mindy Baumgartner, Wei-Li Huang, Karen Joy Salvador, Melissa Nguyen, and Jennifer Ma — calligraphers who share a passion for science. The combination of both science and art backgrounds creates opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration.
The project has not only taught Ma about science, but it has opened her eyes to a new realm of possibility. She no longer feels she has to choose between arts and science — she has realized that perhaps there is something in between.
STEAMotype can be found on Instagram under the handle @steamotype.