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Creatively Melding Art and Science

Hila Tzipora Chase’s interests are as dynamic and atypical as her background. After spending her childhood on the Upper West Side, Chase lived and home-schooled for a year in suburban New Jersey before moving to Israel and continuing to home-school there, while supporting herself by cleaning houses and teaching circus arts to children in Jerusalem.

At 17, Chase moved back to Manhattan to attend college, knowing she “wanted to do both science and art.” Hunter offered her exactly what she wanted through two four-year honors programs – the Yalow Scholar Program, for aspiring scientists, and the Thomas Hunter Honors Program, for students with an interdisciplinary focus. As a young scientist, Chase also found strong support in Hunter’s NIH-funded MARC program (Maximizing Access to Research Careers – Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research). MARC gave her wonderful advisors and mentors, travel and entrée to top national conferences, and assistance in finding positions on cutting-edge professional laboratory teams.

With her self-designed interdisciplinary major in paleontology and biology, Chase conducted paleontological research at the American Museum of Natural History and worked in a developmental-genetics lab at Weill Cornell. On campus, she founded and ran Hunter’s popular Circus Club and helped Professor Jill Bargonetti teach the groundbreaking interdisciplinary dance/science course Choreographing Genomics.

Chase credits evolutionary biologist Roger Persell, whom she calls an “awesome professor and mentor,” for teaching the freshman biology courses and honors course on art and anatomy that “got me onto the track I’m on.” This track has since included a couple of substantial stops at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, where she did some of the work that won her the NSF Fellowship.

As Chase says, that work now includes “all sorts of cool stuff, like looking at the skeletal, behavioral and evolutionary differences between birds that fly differently or don’t fly at all.” She’s delighted to be in Montana, where, she notes, birdwatching is a common pastime and she can participate in science outreach programs for Native American children. Meanwhile, as she prepares for an interdisciplinary career in academia, Chase continues to integrate her own science and art by creating 3-D visuals of scientific concepts and structures and incorporating them into performance art.

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