March 15, 2017

Making a difference with science-based art [Women’s History Month]

Posted by Laura Guertin

For the month of March, in honor of Women’s History Month, I am dedicating my weekly blog posts to the outstanding organizations, resources, and inspiring stories about women in STEM. You can view my posts from this year and past years by searching on the tag “Women’s History Month”.

This week’s post features a former student of mine, English major Mary Capaldi, and how she has found a way to take her passion and talent for science art to make a difference for others (people & nature).

In all my courses, I make an effort to show my students that their learning (in fact, the real world) must go across the silos of instruction. Although the students are in an Earth science course with me, I want them to see the connections with other content areas beyond STEM fields, such as the social sciences and humanities. And it is wonderful when I can give an example of a former student that sat in the same exact classroom for one of my courses, a student that has since graduated and successfully bridged the fields of science and art.

Meet Mary Capaldi, an English major from Penn State Brandywine that always had a passion for art but was not thinking of art as a career when she graduated. I don’t recall when or why I started following Mary on Twitter, but it has been fascinating for me to see her growth and development into her current profession as an independent freelance artist.

One of Mary’s favorite subjects to sketch? Bugs! From bug cartoons to scientifically-accurate drawings, Mary has an impressive eye for the finest details of moths to beetles. She has created bandanas from her own bug patterns (she terms “bugdanas”) to impressive illustrations from the entomology collection at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.

But there are several scientific artists out there – why profile Mary this Women’s History Month? It is her passion for taking her science art and using it to make a difference for others that I applaud.

In 2016, with the announcement that seven bee species in the United States were being placed on the Endangered Species List, Mary decided to do something to help these insects. She took her talents and created two bee pins, with a portion of the proceeds from the pin sales to be donated to the Pollinator Partnership. During her fundraising period, Mary raised $330.

She didn’t stop there! Mary has moved on to generating more scientific art as pins that benefit the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). I think you can see her inspiration for the Tiger Swallowtail Gynandromorph (a butterfly with both male and female characteristics) and the glow-in-the-dark firefly (a symbol of light in the darkness).

I know Mary’s journey from student to artist inspires my students – she certainly inspires me and gives me hope that even more students that sat in the same classroom as Mary will go out and find a way to make science part of their lives, possibly their careers.

Follow Mary on Twitter (@MaryCapaldi) and visit her shop at:

And stay tuned – it seems that she has some more bee art up her sleeve!