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Located just outside the Oxford Road train station, the STEM bee is a celebration of Manchester’s scientific legacy and its current achievement. Aiming to encourage more people to become involved in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths), its body is adorned with imagery taken from research papers, science poetry and facts plus signatures from over 70 Manchester-based researchers. The bee also has its own dedicated website with more information about it and its signatories.

By happy coincidence, the day I took the above photograph is the same day I met its artist, Kelly Stanford. Whilst attending the Bee: Late event at the Museum of Science and Industry, I came across Kelly sat at the MetMunch table, working on the below detailed illustration of a bee. A recent graduate of University of Manchester, Kelly has specialised in creating scientific art, from  textured paintings of the surface of Mars to creating a 3D printed Bee Hotel. As a lot of her recent work has involved bees, Kelly graciously agreed to answer a few questions regarding her artwork.

Megachile-Bee by Kelly Stanford.

How did you find yourself in the particular niche of being a scientific artist?

I’ve always been interested in science but it wasn’t until college when CERN was in the news for finding the Higgs Boson that I really started focusing on how to integrate these subjects into my work. Luckily, I was able to travel to CERN in Geneva for an open day they were hosting while the Large Hadron Collider was shut down for servicing. This gave me the unique chance to look around the facilities, question the physicists working there and even go underground to see ATLAS (one of the experiments situated on the 27k LHC ring that detected the Higgs along with rival experiment CMS). I documented everything I saw there in a sketchbook. Taking particular interest in the colossal machines used to test scientific theories, I abstracted the forms I saw and reconstructed them to represent natural living things to show the relationship between particle physics (the invisible) and everyday life. While producing these pieces I had students and staff alike come up to me asking questions about these subjects. I realised that the art element made it seem more accessible to those from a non-science background, so I focused on developing this further when I got to university.

I noticed that a lot of your current projects are about or involve bees. I’m curious if bees are a particular interest of yours, or is it just by chance.

Well it started with the STEM Bee project (my science communication sculpture which is currently situated outside Manchester Oxford Road station). I needed to research and illustrate a variety of different bee species commonly found in gardens for the downloadable DIY Bee Hotel guide I was producing with my sponsor (ARUP). This sparked my curiosity and got me thinking about what bees can be found in central Manchester. It was great sunny weather at the time and I had just started working on a host of science communication projects at Manchester Metropolitan University which has this tiny walled-off urban garden in the centre of John Dalton building, so I used this as my isolated research space. Over a period of two weeks I was in that garden documenting every insect I came across. To my surprise, I found a huge number of species including Ashy Mining Bees and even a rare wasp! I’m currently still working on a number of bee-related projects but will probably switch up to focus on more microscopic forms.

How much research did you have to undertake for your STEM bee?

Quite a bit. I already knew quite a bit about Manchester’s scientific heritage but I still consulted scientists I knew for inspiration and for recommendations on what imagery should be included on the bee. Hilariously this has led to many physicists being stumped by the really obscure equations on the front left leg! I think there’s only two people in the entire particle physics department at University of Manchester who understand what it says. All of the facts around the base and on the back of the bee was from what I cherry picked from various science sources though. These are more aimed at the layman so I couldn’t go too complicated with them (however this doesn’t stop them from being interesting!). My favourite fact on the bee must be the one about sunsets on Mars appearing blue.

Hexahome prototype by Kelly Stanford

How is the work with the Bee Hotel Concept prototype coming along?

I have just given the go ahead on the final design so we should have a full-scale prototype sometime in September. I’ve been producing it in collaboration with PrintCity (MMU’s on site 3D printing lab). The team there has been fantastic to work with and really helpful with working out all of the technical aspects of turning my concept sketches into a physical item. I’ll be bringing the prototypes with me to outreach events so if you want to see them in person you can! I’m once again going to be using the John Dalton garden as my test bed for the prototype next summer as I want to see what insects move into the ‘Hexahome’ before I start my Kickstarter to market it.

You mentioned a number of upcoming projects that you’re working on at the Bee: Late. Which ones are you particularly excited about?

There are so many, it is hard to pick! I am prepping for my first solo art exhibition at Cass Art in Manchester which will be there from November 2nd. Then I’m doing a lot of science communication gigs including leading two groups of computer science students at MMU to produce sci comm experiences using VR and applications to communicate the department’s research to the wider public. I will also be working closely with MetMUnch again to produce similar events like the one at Bee:Late. I have a page on my website that lists all of my upcoming live drawing and sci comm gigs so be sure to check that out. Feel free to drop by my drawing booth and say hi!

Finally, since this website is primarily about the Manchester Bee, has the Manchester Bee inspired your recent work in any way? If so, what does the Manchester Bee represent for you?

I think the Manchester bee serves as both a reminder of the industrial revolution, how far the city has progressed scientifically over the years as well as a reminder that nature has to also share this urban environment with us, therefore we should do more to help accommodate nature (such as bees!).

If you’re interested in find out more about Kelly and her artwork, you can follow her on twitter, or visit her website: kellystanford.co.uk

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