SALT LAKE CITY — A breast cancer researcher at the Huntsman Cancer Institute has found a passion for welding that fuses the art world and the medical world.
“I’ve always wanted to weld since I was young,” said Dr. Bryan Welm, whose work includes identifying drugs that kill cancerous tumors.
A couple of years ago, Welm and his daughter took a welding class and they started making a few pieces for the house.
He then moved on to making biomolecular-type structures, including a nucleosome, a complex of proteins that binds the DNA in all of our cells in a compact package.
"It's also involved in turning genes on and off,” Welm said.
Welm, who made the sculpture for the scientist who discovered it, recently was honored with a Passion in Science Award from New England Biolabs Inc. The award acknowledges scientists for their innovative work that goes above and beyond the boundaries of pure science to make a profound impact on other fields, including the arts, humanitarian service, environmental stewardship, and science mentorship.
"When I pulled up the structure, originally I said, ‘There’s no way, this is just too complex for me,’” Welm said. But, he persevered, getting help from his senior leader, Dr. Brad Cairns, senior director of basic science at the institute. Cairns’ laboratory actually works on that particular structure.
"Not only could we talk about the art of welding. But, we could talk about the science of the nucleosome,” Cairns said.
It took the pair 240 hours over 10 months to create the detailed sculpture, and both say they really enjoyed the artistic process for relaxation and also for intellectual stimulation.
"I can come home, and I can be so focused on really not losing a finger, or losing an eye, or getting burned, or something. But, that just gets me right involved in the art piece, and I don't think about anything else,” Welm said.
As scientists, they usually view their work through a microscope or on the computer.
With their artwork, they get to touch it.Comment on this story
"The tactile experience of building the thing that you think about a lot is really very interesting, quite an intimate experience, and actually I found that I understood the nucleosome more deeply from having to touch it and really, really understand it,” Cairns said.
He hopes people viewing the piece will recognize the DNA structure, and become curious.
"They may ask questions about this, which will lead to conversations about the types of research we do here, about how this is involved in cancer,” Welm said.