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NIEHS Scientist Adds an Artistic Touch

By Colleen Chandler

Looking around Theodora "Teddy" Devereux's office and lab, one can see science and art intertwined like the brightly colored chromosomes and DNA strands depicted in fused glass artwork on display there.

She is head of NIEHS' molecular toxicology group. She has been a research biologist there for 30 years, focusing on identifying molecular mechanisms of liver and lung carcinogenesis. She studies the varying degrees of susceptibility to lung cancer, searching for data on why this variance exists.

The questions she seeks answers to, and some of the answers as well, are reflected in some of the art that surrounds her. The science and the art are both her handiwork.

Not all of Teddy Devereux's pieces reflect science themes. "My Mind's Eye," at left, is made with opalized glass. The piece on the right is an abstract design of a shell. These are her favorite works.

It was a church group that initially sparked Devereux's interest in stained glass, which led to her hobby of fused glass. She likes the bright colors and iridescent glass used in fusing, and she likes the fact that things look different when they come out of the kiln than they did going in.

Not only can Devereux spot the art in her science, but she also has a good understanding of the science in her art. Some of her designs are based on what she sees in her microscope, but not all of her pieces have a scientific theme.

The most challenging part of fused glass is getting her ideas down on paper the way they are in her head. Then she begins cutting, smoothing, arranging and gluing the glass before it goes into the kiln, where design becomes reality.

"I think of art as being more abstract, and not exact," she said.

Her pieces look entirely different when they are viewed under low light than when they are backlit, such as those she hangs in her windows. Some elements of the design are only visible under certain lighting conditions.

Unlike stained glass, which uses lots of small pieces, fused glass uses fewer pieces — large and small. They are fused together by baking them at about 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit. The glass must have compatible coefficients of expansion in order for the pieces to fuse properly. Once they are fused, Devereux solders them.

She began working with glass about 12 years ago. Since then, she has completed 25 to 30 pieces, averaging four pieces a year. Some are displayed in a gallery in downtown Durham, N.C., near NIEHS. She has also branched out into collaborative work with other artists to produce yard sculptures and some metal work incorporating glass pieces.

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