“Often people tell me I’m doing two disparate things: science and theater,” but neurobiology concentrator Sean Hardy ’16 doesn’t see it that way. After a good conversation—facilitated, perhaps, by student organization Science-Theater at Harvard College—“I think scientists and artists would be surprised by the similar ways in which they approach problems.” Both fields, Hardy reflects, rely on “total dedication to your work, endless questioning” and enduring “loads of failure.” Science, like art, “is creative and innovative, while art [like science] requires applied method to practice.”
Hardy majored in drama at New York City’s Laguardia High School and planned to pursue his passion for the science of emotion as a cognitive neuroscience concentrator at Harvard—until MCB 105: Systems Neuroscience with Florian Engert. The course “introduced me to the variety of amazing ways brain circuitry maps stimuli to generate behavior” and unleashed a “love of neurons” that now unites his interdisciplinary studies. Currently conducting his thesis in the Engert lab, Hardy investigates “how a fish feels water,” using fluorescent viral tracing to label neurons from the sensory hair cells throughout a zebrafish brain.
Both the methodical mindset of bench work and the big-picture mentality of neuroscience prove an invaluable asset for Hardy as an actor, as a director, and as president of Science-Theater at Harvard College (ST@HC). Hardy and classmates, Jumai Yusuf (Neurobiology ‘16) and Alona Bach (History of Science ‘16), founded ST@HC in order to “build and foster lasting connections between the arts and science communities on campus” and “provide funding and support to artists and scientists interested in creating theater that deals with science, technology, and their wide implications on society.”
Liaisons between the arts and sciences are vital to communicating scientific knowledge to the public, Hardy contends. ST@HC has “allowed me to ask critical questions about why science matters and given me the tools to accurately articulate that to a general audience.” In 2014, for instance, Hardy directed a staged reading of Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky, which explores the life and work of astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt. After the reading, performed in the same Harvard observatory where Leavitt herself worked, ST@HC hosted a panel discussion on women in science, at which faculty and graduate and undergraduate students reflected on the play and their own experience in their fields. To Hardy’s delight, Silent Sky was well attended by an audience including scientists, students, and drama buffs from universities across the greater Boston area.
As his last semester at Harvard hurdles by, Hardy faces a win-win decision between graduate programs—study theater in Paris or clinical neuroscience at Cambridge University? In the meantime, he looks forward to ST@HC’s spring premiere of Shiver, an experimental work by neurobiology concentrator Jumai Yusuf ’16. Hopefully, Shiver and ensuing projects will kindle more collaborative relationships between Harvard undergraduates, grad students, and faculty so that ST@HC’s foundational dialogue will continue long after its founders graduate.
Funded by grants from Harvard’s Office for the Arts, the Harvard College Women’s Center, and the Undergraduate Council, ST@HC’s theater lab, like any research laboratory, provides a space “to dare to fail and try new things.” Disproving the false opposition between disciplines, Hardy found that the Harvard community shares his “intrepid commitment to art-making” and faith in the fertile interface between science and the arts.
For more about ST@HC, past and present productions, or to get involved, visit their website: here