August 13, 2015
Grad plans to go on to medical school
For the fifth consecutive year, a CIA student brought home an award from the Association of Medical Illustrators Salon. Madeline Newcomb '15 won an award of merit for a highly detailed poster she illustrated explaining polymerase chain reaction and gel electrophoresis.
Newcomb's illustration was judged against work by medical illustration students from both graduate and undergraduate programs in major universities in the U.S. and Canada. She answered these questions during a break from studying for a medical school entrance exam.
What sparked your interest in this project?
"PCR and Gel Electrophoresis Protocol" is a poster that illustrates the laboratory procedures for two important DNA processing techniques. PCR is the abbreviation for polymerase chain reaction, a procedure that allows a tiny DNA sample to be copied so it is large enough to be analyzed. Gel electrophoresis often follows PCR, and allows scientists to compare multiple DNA samples to find similarities and differences between them. Both techniques are very common in forensic science and evolutionary biology and most undergraduate biology students will perform them as part of their education.
This poster was an assignment for the new Cellular and Molecular Illustration class, taught by Adjunct Faculty member David Schumick. We were required to depict the two related procedures on a poster designed to appeal to undergraduate students. I chose to show each procedure with images showing both the proper lab technique and apparatus, but to really focus on what is going on at each step on the molecular level to show why and how the method yields the desired results. Biochemistry is my favorite area of science, and I have experience performing both procedures. I'm always curious about what exactly is happening on the molecular level during experiments, which is what lead me to illustrate both methods and theory for the poster.
What was the biggest challenge of this project?
The greatest challenge for the project was finding a way to balance illustrations depicting two levels of detail along with text in a way that was easy to read and in an appealing graphic format. I chose to split the poster into two sections, divided by a large graphic that shows a detailed view of DNA being copied. I carefully chose a limited color palette, and used color to distinguish the two techniques as well as differentiate between laboratory methods and the molecular occurrences. I chose a graphic style similar to flat design to lend it a clean appearance and to appeal to its target audience.
For information on PCR and gel electrophoresis, the Cellular and Molecular Illustration class performed electrophoresis in class and took notes and sketches. I also consulted my laboratory notebooks from when I did the procedures, textbooks about biochemistry and biology, and an online databank of protein structures.
Describe your BFA project?
I created a website with animations depicting each step of the citric acid cycle, an important metabolic pathway that converts food into energy that cells can use. The website is designed to help undergraduate biochemistry students study the citric acid cycle.
What’s next for you?
While working on my BFA at CIA, I completed pre-medical studies at Case Western Reserve University. I'm currently in the process of studying for the Medical College Admissions Test and working on applications to begin medical school in the fall of 2017.
I've always been fascinated by the human body and medicine, and have wanted to become a doctor since I was very young. I love science, and that science and technology can be used to improve human lives.
Why did you decide to pursue the Biomedical Art program at CIA?
I chose to study medical illustration as an undergraduate because of the variety of experiences that I could not get in a science undergraduate degree. I also wanted to use my artistic talents and be able to work with my hands. I have been afforded the opportunity to learn human anatomy from dissection, observe surgery, and shadow physicians, as well as develop a strong professional and work ethic. The Biomedical Art program at CIA particularly appealed to me because of its partnerships with Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and museums in Cleveland.
Do you think your Biomedical Art background will make you a better doctor?
A background in the fine arts taught me to combine creative thinking with analytical problem solving, which is essential for diagnosis and research. It has trained me to visualize a spatially complicated, often invisible process or structure, which makes learning many topics in anatomy and physiology much easier. I also believe that a background in a communications-related field will make it easier to relate to patients and explain their health to them, ideally in a way that engages them and helps them actively participate in their care.
Above: Madeline Newcomb and her award-winning poster.
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