JANET RAFNER: CELEBRATING THE ART OF SCIENCE
Anyone who says “she who hesitates is lost” has not yet heard the story of Janet Rafner (College ‘15).
The Richmond, Virginia native came to Grounds with a strong interest in both Physics and Art. Over the course of her four years on Grounds, she was able to, with the help of a number of important UVa professors and mentors, chart a remarkably original course that is allowing her to marry her dual passions of physics and art in an effort to create dynamic new avenues through which people can understand science and the life of a scientist.
“I really want to share my interests in physics and how it helped me see the world differently, and ultimately, more beautifully. And I found that through art and animation and design you can really bridge that gap. You can break down some of the fear and barriers between the big and kind of scary concepts of physics that some people just don’t want to deal with.”
Rafner also hopes her efforts will encourage students interested in STEM fields to truly understand what lies ahead of them. “It is important for them to understand what is behind the laboratory doors, what life in research lab is really like, what people do every day, and why are people still working there at one in the morning! I think that through illustration and graphic design you can convey the story of scientists, why what they do is important to them, and why it might be important to you too.”
A chance hallway encounter with her advisor, Professor Lou Bloomfield, connected her with a French Professor Julien Bobroff, who heads up La Physique Autrement (Physics Reimagined), a research group focused on the intersection of art, science and design. The summer internship there, she said, turned out to be “the best career decision I ever made.”
Rafner was so inspired by the work she and other team members there were doing that she reached out to friends at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond and proposed curating an exhibit around it. That exhibit, “Call Me Quantum: Explore the alluring curiosities of the quantum world,” helped inspire her to apply to become a Fulbright Scholar. She is currently in Denmark working with Professors Jacob Sherson (physics & ScienceAtHome) and Rikke Schmidt Kjaergaard of Aarhus University iNANO Center visualization lab. Together with other scholars, they are developing ways to use the MAYA software system, heretofore employed almost exclusively in video games and animated films, to advance education about science.
couldn’t have been luckier to have the people I did at UVa, who believed in
what I wanted to do, and who, in essence, bet on me,” Rafner said. These people
included studio art professor William Wylie, physics professor Despina Louca,
math professor Zoran Grujic, with whom she is now working on an animation
project as part of her Fulbright efforts, and, of course, Bloomfield. “I feel
like when you love what you do, and when you can find and connect with kindred
spirits, you connect with them on a totally different level. I am so excited to
see what is going to happen in the next year.”