Art intersecting with bioscience at uCity Square

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By John George | Philadelphia Business Journal | September 28, 2017

Ben Dorentz admits to being frustrated that most people don’t understand the science that takes place every day at the Philadelphia biotechnology company he leads.

“If I showed you the charts and graphs and data that explain what we do, your eyes would probably glaze over,” said Dorentz, the president and CEO of Integral Molecular, a 16-year-old company that focuses on antibody discovery for membrane protein targets. “There are other scientists who understand what we do but not of lot of the general public does.”

That’s why Dorentz welcomed the opportunity to host the University City Science Center’s new artist-in-residence program focused on biotechnology at his company based in its uCity Square campus.

“This will be an opportunity to communicate what we do in a visual way and show why it makes a difference in people’s lives,” he said.

The artist-in-residence for the three-month “art+science” residency pilot project is Philadelphia-based artist Orkan Telhan, an associate professor of fine arts-emerging design practices at University of Pennsylvania School of Design.

“We live in a society that questions the value of science every day,’ Telhan said. “It’s important to help scientists tell their stories.”

Telhan, who was born in West Germany, specializes in designing interrogative objects — which he calls artifacts — and other media to get people to think deeper about critical issues in social, cultural and environmental responsibility. Of special interest to him is the future of food and taste.

The residency, Telhan said, will allow him to focus on the tongue itself, which he described as the ultimate decision-maker that determines what foods people like or dislike. “Most people don’t know how the tongue works,” he said. “I am excited to work with Integral Molecular on the biochemistry of taste perception and find ways to make this invisible world more accessible to nonscientists.”

Integral Molecular’s research is focused on membrane proteins, such as taste receptors, viral proteins, and cellular transporters that are involved in diseases such as asthma, Zika, cancer, and chronic pain.

Telhan has already started spending time with Integral Molecular’s scientists in their labs learning about the equipment they use and how they use it. He also discusses science with them at the lunch table.

Dorentz said the scientists and the artist share some common ground.

“There’s a creative process to what we do,” he said. “Science is a lot of interpretation and visualization. It has a lot of parallels to art.”

The Art + Science Residency is being coordinated and facilitated by Angela McQuillan, the curator of the Science Center’s Esther Klein Gallery at 3600 Market St. in Philadelphia. The Science Center’s Quorum space at 3711 Market St. will host a public lecture by Telhan on Oct. 3 where he will discuss his work and the residency program.