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Meet Lindsay Olson of Lindsay Olson in Suburbs

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lindsay Olson.

Lindsay, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
After hours of training, I strapped on my dosimeter and stepped into the 4-mile long particle accelerator that uses 1,000 superconducting magnets to steer and control mysterious particles called neutrinos. The dosimeter measures radiation exposure, and I was working my first day as an artist at Fermilab.

I make art about science and my work takes me out of the studio to places like this: a cavernous ring of equipment designed to accelerate tiny bits of matter at near the speed of light. Here, scientists want to crack open the secrets of neutrinos. And I want to explain it—through art.

Art and science are deeply human endeavors. How scientific research is communicated to the public needs imaginative, creative storytellers who connect scientific discoveries to human experience in exciting ways. My studio practice is inspired by the urgent need to shift public opinion and place scientific research in the center of policy discussions. Images can touch people in ways words cannot. By using my training as an artist, I work to create engaging art that helps the public approach an intimidating subject: scientific research.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
For many people, science seems like an insurmountable subject. One of those people includes me, but this changed when I realized I could use my training as an artist to learn scientific concepts.

For years, I had been painting idealized views of Chicago area waterways, but I had been editing out the built environment. All this changed on a canoe trip down the Cal Sag Channel. I bumped into an engineered waterfall built by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. The process of finding out who built this structure and why led me to the world’s largest wastewater treatment plant in Stickney, Ill. I suddenly realized that if I used my training as an artist, I could learn enough engineering to create art that tells the real story of water in a dense urban area. I actually fell in love with science in the middle of a waste water treatment plant.

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory later invited me to help them establish an artist residency and learn about their research. Working with the lab made me realize that I’m not afraid to learn even high energy physics. Now I want everyone to know that you don’t need a Ph.D. to fall in love with science.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
All my projects have three important phases: learning accurate science, creating engaging art and generating opportunities to reach the public by booking art exhibitions, lectures and by publishing articles.

My work is full immersion. I interview scientists, participate in intensive training, read books and articles, visit labs and engineering sites and attend popular science lectures. This is the scaffolding from which I create my art.

To create art, I research art, history and culture to mine inspiration. I filter this inspiration through my life experience to create art that distills complex science into accessible art.

Once the work is complete, I book exhibitions at libraries, universities, regional art centers, conferences and other unusual places. I write articles and lecture widely.

Creating collaborative teams is central to my work. I work with scientists, communications staff and engineers to learn the science that informs my art. Dr. Don Lincoln, senior scientist at Fermilab; Dick Lanyon, retired director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Chicago; mycologists Dr. Patrick Leacock at The Field Museum of Natural History, and senior scientist Dr. Greg Mueller at the Chicago Botanic Garden are a few of the people who provide me with information and inspiration for my projects.

What were you like growing up?
I struggled academically and grew up the oddball child in a family that worshiped words. No one predicted that a list of subatomic particles, images of water cleaning bacteria and a battered hard hat would reside so comfortably with the art materials that are the tools of my trade.

Many of the women in my family are needlers and I am a 4th generation knitter. I grew up among the domestic textile arts and studied fashion design in college. Later, I returned to Columbia College Chicago as a mature student to study fine art. Blending art, textiles and science feels like a natural extension of my experiences and training.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Picture of me Bree Corn
Art work photos Reidar Hahn for Fermilab

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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