Second-year graduate neuroscience student Samantha Montoya combines the study of the human brain with visual art in her new coloring book.
Sophomore graduate neuroscience student and studio artist Samantha Montoya has found a bridge between her two passions. Working in multiple visual mediums including oil, acrylic, and embroidery, Montoya centers much of her work around neuroscience topics and visual concepts.
Montoya’s latest project is the “University of Minnesota Coloring Book”, a collection of coloring books based on images from journal articles published by researchers in the University’s Neuroscience graduate program.
Originally, the coloring book was to be made available to incoming applicants to the neuroscience graduate program during the interview process. Within the neuroscience department, sophomore graduate students are tasked with planning recruitment weekend, and Montoya offered the coloring book as something to help potential future students relax.
“I really liked the idea of giving something to de-stress in a really stressful time,” Montoya said. “And I thought, ‘Why don’t we do the neuroscience coloring book for interviewers?’ Because it would be nice to have something that shows we actually care about their mental health as they go through what can be a daunting interview process.
Since there are no in-person interviews this year, Montoya has made the coloring book available for digital download on his artist website.
Growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Montoya took up painting at an early age. In elementary school, she had difficulty learning to read. After consulting with a guardian, Montoya’s family discovered that she most likely had Meares-Irlen Syndrome. A condition that was just discovered at the time, Meares-Irlen syndrome is a disorder that causes visual distortion, warping, after images, and visual snow and can result in extremely difficult reading.
This condition created challenges for Montoya in his college career, but also became a source of inspiration. She has focused many of her works and projects on visually representing her experience with the condition and educating people about its nature and potential arrangements.
Montoya’s partner, graphic designer Jacob Bergen, helped with the final editing and layout of the neuroscience coloring book. Bergen admires Montoya’s work depicting his unique point of view.
“I’m really a big fan of some of her paintings where she paints the world as she sees it. … The world is a little twisted or a little blurry,” he said. “Knowing her, I know she can see perfectly, but just understanding how she can see what a lot of people see has given me a better understanding of what she does and what interests her.”
Dr. Cheryl Olman, Associate Professor of Psychology, oversees neuroscience outreach and engagement for the University’s Neuroscience Graduate Program. She defends Montoya’s creativity and humility.
“Sam is a powerful woman and I’m thrilled to have her in our program. I would love to see her brag more often about what she accomplishes on and off campus,” she said.
In light of Brain Awareness Week, which runs from March 15-21, Montoya’s coloring book will be part of a neuroscience coloring contest hosted by the university. Judged by Montoya, the winner will receive two tickets to the “Mysteries of Your Brain” planetarium show at the Bell Museum.
Montoya hopes to continue the neuroscience coloring book with an annual edition and plans to continue working in his unique sphere of artwork celebrating the beauty of the brain.
“I think that’s really important because it allows people to engage with what can otherwise be a really hard concept to grasp in an interesting and engaging way,” she said. “It also allows for a conversation where the public can respond to the scientists, and I think that’s also really vital.”