“Science” and “art” are often portrayed as “opposites” but Nina Chhita brings them together, producing beautiful illustrations to draw attention to the stories and accomplishments of female scientists throughout history and into the current day. Nina has masters degree in developmental biology from the University of Bath and her day job is working as a medical writer in Vancouver, authoring educational materials for healthcare professionals. She enjoys this career, but when the work clock stops, she packs away the keyboard and pulls out the paints!
If you’ve ever been to Britain, you’ve likely seen those blue plaques hung about with the names of famous people and how they’re associated with that place (e.g. really important person X gave a really important speech right at this corner). Ever curious, Nina started doing some research on the people whose plaques she ran across, and started sketching portraits of them as she read up.
She learned about a lot of cool people, but the stories she was most drawn to were those of the scientists, especially the female ones. And as she drew them, she felt more connected to them. But it also became clear to her that she came across far too many of their names on plaques – or anywhere, really. And, when asked to identify female scientists in a quiz, neither she nor her friends scored well.
This mini wakeup call further motivated her to donate her passions for science, art, and history to the cause. She started with illustrating and profiling historical female scientists, but, recognizing that the lack of recognition and representation of women continues into the present day, she began drawing contemporary female scientists as well, and publishing her works on Instagram under the account @Nina.draws.scientists (we’re highlighting some of her favorites here) . Each portrait, made using a combination of gouache, pastel pencils, and paint pens, takes her 4-6 hours and, when possible, she first video chats with the scientist she’s drawing to make sure she captures their essence.
In addition to a dissemination platform, Instagram proved to be a continuous source of inspiration and community. Nina was quickly welcomed by fellow “sci-commers” on Instagram – scientists who use this social media platform to communicate scientific concepts to a broad audience.
In honor of February 11 being the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, this year Nina’s continuing her annual tradition of highlighting the work of female sci-commers. She invited the Insta-verse to nominate their favorite accounts and she’s illustrating the 6 who received the most votes, to be published starting February 6, with the “grand prize” of a print version of their portrait going to the person with the most votes, announced on February 11.
Rather than pit scientists against each other, the “contest” provides a great way to find new accounts to follow – from established faves to rising starts to those struggling to find their place – check out the comments section to see all the nominees and follow, follow, follow. Nina especially wants to amplify the voices of those who are underrepresented in STEM field, so she kicked the voting off by highlighting a diverse group of some of her “must-follows.”
Nina is definitely one of our “must-follows” and we hope you will – you can find her on Instagram as @Nina.draws.scientists and on Twitter @Nina_Chhita – and be sure to check out this year’s posts!