Elizabeth Moss

Published on Dec 12, 2013
Photo by Kat SilversteinPhoto by Kat Silverstein

Elizabeth Moss is a senior illustration major and is also Columbia’s first Biology minor. She’s got skills in scientific illustration, comic illustration and has entered the science world with research on antibiotic resistance that garnered serious interest at the Argonne Undergraduate Symposium. Not to mention, she teaches science to middle school kids. How does someone marry science and art? We ask Elizabeth to tell us.

You’re the first biology minor at Columbia. How’d that happen?

When I first came to Columbia, I originally wasn’t going to minor in Biology, but then I started getting into the science program a lot more. I went to see about a minor, but I was told that it might not happen before I graduate so I started doing an independent study instead. And then Columbia got the minor and I had already taken a bunch of science classes, so I was almost done when it was created. I was really lucky. 

Tell us about your independent studies.

I did them with Victoria Liu and we worked mostly with antibiotic resistance. We did an experiment and exposed antibiotic soap to bacteria over and over again to see if the bacteria would become resistant, and they did which was terrifying. It’s basically showing that we’re using antibiotics in everything and that we should only use it when we actually need it, like when you have a bacterial infection.

Was it scary presenting to scientists at the Argonne Undergraduate Symposium?

I presented my independent study about antibiotic resistance at the symposium in November and it went really well. My experiment was easy to understand so I got questions from lots students. I considered that a “thumbs up” because people my age wanted to ask me questions like “How does this affect the future?”

I was one of the very few people there who was not on the road to getting a Ph.D. in science. I thought I was going to go there and feel extremely intimidated, and I did a little bit, but everyone was very nice and impressed that I was an art student.

Tell us about your science internships and experience.

I’ve worked with Luis Nasser on his physics textbook. One of his goals is to make physics as easy as possible to understand. I’ve been doing some graphics with him for his textbook. I know almost nothing about physics so he’s teaching me about it and giving me the layout for the diagrams and then I make them. It’s been really interesting. 

Also, I teach in an after school program with Marcelo Caplan at James Shields Middle School. I teach science to sixth, seventh and eighth graders. It’s a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning program. Right now I’m teaching them how to build a solar powered car. They also get to go on lots of field trips. They seem to really enjoy it and they’re fantastic!

How do you plan to integrate illustration with biology?

I want to go into scientific illustration! I’m primarily a visual learner so when I’m reading my science textbooks, I end up drawing diagrams rather than writing notes because it’s easier for me.  In the future, I’d really like to work in a field that can provide clear and understandable graphics.

What inspires your comics?

I’m a complete comic book nerd!  I like my comics to be funny. I’m not sure if I want to go into comics as my job, I think I just do it for fun. I just make comics that I laugh at.

What’s your favorite class that you’ve taken at Columbia?

I enjoyed Figure Illustration. I had a fantastic teacher and he gave great advice. We went in every day and drew a model for four hours. We didn’t just draw the model; we got to turn them into different characters and/or draw them doing different things. I think everybody really enjoyed it and it’s helpful.

How did Columbia help you get these opportunities?

I think the biggest help has come from the professors in the science department. It started when I started working with Victoria Liu on the independent study and then Marcelo Caplan asked me to work with him in the after school program and then Luis Nasser heard about me and asked me to do physics illustrations.

I don’t like to turn down opportunities. I was presented with a bunch of opportunities and I went with them. Be nice to your all of your teachers because you never know which ones can help. I never thought that I’d be doing anything with illustration with the science department but I actually have been!

What do you plan to do after graduation?

I will spend the next semester looking for jobs or internships in any field that involves illustration. At this point I can’t be too picky. I’m also considering going to graduate school for scientific illustration.  I don’t want to go right after graduation because I want to try to find a job first. I also want to make sure that I’m ready to go to grad school and that my portfolio looks right.

Check out Elizabeth’s awesome illustrations on her Talent Pool!