Muckraking Mendota: “Take this fish and look at it”

Louis Agassiz using drawings to illustrate invertebrate body forms. Photo courtesy of the New York Times.
Louis Agassiz using drawings to illustrate invertebrate body forms. Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

Louis Agassiz was an early prominent ichthyologist (someone who studies fish) at Harvard in the mid-1800s. When one of his graduate students, Samuel Scudder, showed up for his first day, Agassiz told him to take a preserved fish specimen and look at it – then left for several hours. Scudder ended up sitting and looking at a single fish for nearly three days, which forced him to notice all kinds of details he would have never seen.
Earlier this month I met Ann Singsaas, both a biologist and artist, who is part of the LTEarts program. When I asked about her career path, she explained that getting involved in art expanded her ability to understand science.
For example, she was better able to visualize molecule structures in chemistry. She promotes sketching as a way to observe the natural world, because the process slows a person down, and builds pathways in the brain that will later allow them to remember details. It sounded a little weird that drawing could help me get better at identifying fish, but Ann said, “People don’t believe it until they do it.” Keep reading –>

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