Faculty Trailblazers: College of Arts and Sciences Spotlights Bivens, Buchan

UT has recently garnered significant national accolades, including the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities’ Trailblazer award for retention and graduation rate gains and the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification for outreach. These successes are due to the hard work of our innovative employees. Here’s a look at two College of Arts and Sciences faculty members who are trailblazers in and out of the classroom.

Emily Bivens

For Associate Professor of Art Emily Bivens, good art crosses boundaries.

“The division between art and life is not as distinct as we think,” she said. “There are moments when the clear line around art disappears and the work touches audiences in unexpected ways. That’s what I am trying to explore.”

Bivens’ solo work combines the use of space, static props, interactive pieces, audio and video projections, and performance art.

Emily-Bivens

She also is part of the Bridge Club, a four-artist contemporary visual and performance art collaborative. The Bridge Club travels to different places in the United States producing site-specific videos, digital media, and performance art that investigates local histories, contexts, conflicts, and expectations.

“Emily is an accomplished artist whose work compels viewers to engage and think,” said College of Arts and Sciences Dean Theresa Lee.

Bivens says she seeks engagement beyond the personal level.

“There’s a value in community engagement,” she said. “I want the art to be seen outside the context of a performance, and to evoke a variety of responses among those who see it.”

Bivens and her collaborators seek out places like trailer parks and grocery-store parking lots in order to cross the boundary from art to life and bring their performances to different audiences.

Bivens says her interdisciplinary approach has been rewarding, but not without challenges.

“When I was studying art in school, you were encouraged to do just one thing and do it well,” she said. That was difficult for her because of her interest in tactile objects, sound, video, and performance.

“But what’s exciting is when you have combined these art forms into something new that the audience can then explore and discover.”

Her students also are excited about pulling from different areas of art in their work, she said.

“I’m impressed by their bravery,” she said. “They’re putting it all out there, taking personal and poignant aspects of themselves and society and using many styles of art to grapple with them. It’s daring.”

Alison Buchan

How do bacteria react to being attacked by a virus? How might bacteria change the energy industry?

Alison Buchan, associate professor of microbiology, looks at some of the microscopic components of life—cells, viruses, and bacteria—to find answers to these questions.

Earth’s oceans may teem with life, but for many kinds of marine bacteria, ocean water is a nutrient-poor environment. One source of nutrition for these bacteria is the remains of other dead bacteria, many of which are killed by infectious viruses.

“When a bacterium is infected by a virus, its DNA and cellular machinery are enslaved to create more virus particles,” Buchan said. At the end, the cell bursts open and the viruses are released, but what also gets released are proteins and molecules that other bacteria can use as food.

Alison-Buchan

“Alison’s path-breaking research illuminating changes in the biochemical nature of cells during virus infection has been supported by the National Science Foundation,” Lee said.

To learn more about the metabolism of virus-infected bacteria, Buchan and her team are collaborating with Shawn Campagna, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry.

“Shawn and his group have put together a series of mass spectrometers that are normally used in medical fields,” Buchan said. “This powerful tool kit has the ability to identify more than 300 kinds of compounds involved in cellular metabolism.”

Another source of food for hungry marine bacteria is woody plant material that ends up in the oceans through rainfall runoff, freshwater rivers emptying into oceans, and trees and brush that die and fall into coastal waters. Buchan and her team are studying how bacteria break down wood compounds, a process that could have an impact on the energy industry.

“Lignin is a compound naturally found in wood, and it’s also a waste product of the biofuel industry,” she said. “We want to see if we can develop value-added products from lignin, such as hydrocarbons and the starting materials used in the production of nylon and other materials.”

Since Buchan and her students work with marine bacteria, they often participate in field expeditions such as oceanic cruises and coastal field campaigns to collect new samples.

“I think that we are fortunate that our college and university leadership have been so supportive of our work,” she said. “The university has made a strategic investment in faculty with expertise in microbial ecology and environmental microbiology, making our department one of only a handful nationwide with such concentrated strength in those areas. This only adds to the education of our students and their preparation for future careers at universities or in industry.”

CONTACT:

Charles Primm (865-974-5180, charles.primm@tennessee.edu)