June 26, 2023

European Geoscience Union calls on UCalgary undergrad for artist-in-residence role

Physical geography major Maria Gabriela Tejada Toapanta merges art and science at their general assembly
Maria Gabriela Tejada Toapanta
Courtesy Maria Gabriela Tejada Toapanta

A University of Calgary undergraduate student combined the worlds of science and art as one of two artists in residence appointed by the European Geoscience Union (EGU) for its 2023 General Assembly in Vienna earlier this spring.

Maria Gabriela Tejada Toapanta, a third-year Bachelor of Science student majoring in physical geography, says she applied for the position with very low expectations after her professor in the Department of Geography, Dr. Tricia Stadnyk, PhD, recommended she apply.

“Knowing that this was a global application process and there were only two spots available worldwide, I was very cautious in my expectations and if I could get in, so I quietly applied, really not expecting much of it,” says Tejada Toapanta. “Nevertheless, I was really intrigued and fascinated by this enormous opportunity.”

For the artist, who specializes in fine-art illustration and print work, it was a shock to be one of the two accepted.

“I didn’t quite understand the magnitude of the event until I was actually there because it was huge; it was so big, but I absolutely loved it,” says Tejada Toapanta. “I just thought it was unreal and I thought it was even more unreal when I got there.” An illustrator and sculptor based in Tromsø, Norway, was named the event’s second artist in residence.

The art created by Tejada Toapanta and fellow artist in residence Heike Jane Zimmermann from Norway for EGU 2023.

The art created by Tejada Toapanta and fellow artist-in-residence Heike Jane Zimmermann from Norway for EGU 2023.

Tricia Stadnyk

This year’s General Assembly attracted 18,831 attendees from 107 countries, with 3,378 of those attendees being online participants and 15,453 being in person. The conference hosts workshops and presentations covering disciplines related to earth, planetary and space sciences.

As an artist in residence, Tejada Toapanta had her own booth, and ran a workshop titled Exploring Creative Processes in Science: An Artist’s Perspective & Tips, which shared how actively adding art into research can help broaden its scope. She was also a guest speaker at another session and was responsible for creating an art piece to represent the conference.

Tejada Toapanta says she was overwhelmed with the support she received. “Being such a young scientist, as I am only an undergraduate, having so many senior scientists, PhD, master’s, people who are already postdocs, people who have already graduated who have a great background, to come into one of my sessions for a whole hour and knowing how limited the time people have … just having the space to basically share everything, run a workshop and for the room to be full…,” she says.

“Having two full rooms of professional scientists and [me] being able to share something and they finding it valuable was, I think, the biggest highlight.” 

Tejada Toapanta standing in front of a group of people presenting a slideshow.

Tejada Toapanta presents at the EGU.

Tricia Stadnyk

Tejada Toapanta says she feels combining science and art helps science become more accessible. “A lot of the scientific papers can be very overwhelming at first sight … It’s something that may need a little bit of aid in trying to explain … to the public,” she says.  

“Nowadays, we have such a huge [overflow] of data, millions and millions of papers are published each year, it is very hard for even scientists in the field to keep up with all the new research … it’s very hard for people outside the field of science or outside of STEM to actually engage and read them.

“By merging art into the sciences, it can really be used as a tool to better communicate these [ideas].  It bridges the gap between science and society, which has mostly led to a lot of misunderstanding, miscommunication, and it can also lead to a lot of mistrust in the scientific community. But with art, it’s something that is at least more approachable or something that is, at least, more relatable.”

Back home in Calgary, Tejada Toapanta is currently working with the UCalgary Hydrologic Analysis Lab (UC-HAL) to create a new rain collector for isotope analysis sampling. She says she also hopes to continue focusing on different ways of merging art and science.

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