A Silky Science-inspired Gift You Don’t Have to Be a Geek to Love

A few years ago my brother-in-law gave me a beautiful silk scarf in a wonderful abstract pattern. “Can you tell what it is?” he asked, a kid bursting with a riddle. “A scarf?” I replied. “No! It’s lipoprotein cells!” I examined the delicate array of gold and gray star bursts, and confessed that I would never have guessed they were cells, let alone a specific kind, but the organic pattern was very lovely and would go with just about anything.

He had stumbled across A Slice of Life Scarves at a science conference and immediately become enamored with not only their beauty, but also the story behind them. The creator is Eve Reaven, a cell biologist turned textile designer in Palo Alto, California. She’s spent a good part of her career peering into light and electron microscopes and marveling at the intricacy and beauty of  the natural patterns found inside cells. She was struck by the universal nature of patterns – the way that lipoproteins isolated in a test tube with gold particles form daisy-like configurations, or that endocrine secretory granules resemble cherries. Realizing that “at every level, nature has provided us with endless patterns for art,” she decided to try capturing those patterns into an art form of her own.

Whilescientist- artists such as David Scharf  have turned Scanning Electron Microscope imagery into an art genre, Reaven chose a more utilitarian application (scarves and ties) using a diaphanous substrate (fine silk) that does justice to the ethereal quality of the images. The patterns of her scarves and ties are based on normal healthy cells magnified 30,000 to 100,000 times under a high-powered electron microscope. She experimented with basic cell designs on her computer, tweaking colors and backgrounds, and then turned those into silkscreens. A fortuitous connection led to having the designs manufactured on high-quality silk in Korea, and A Slice of Life was born. (Full disclosure: My bro-in-law, who has since retired, occasionally helps out at her booth at conferences, depending on whether it’s a city he wants to visit.) While her scarves and ties have a cult following among scientists, for whom the cellular structures are an inside joke, their clean, bold patterns look as chic around the neck as Hermes or Chanel.

Above: The Passages scarf by Eve Reaven represents structures that control the flow of cellular traffic. Below, from top: Stability, a pattern which shows “degenerative changes in cartilage cells providing the scaffolding for bone formation”; Nephros, a pattern (for your favorite nephrologist!) that “suggests kidney glomeruli surrounded by proximal and distal tubules”; and Divisions-T, ties whose pattern shows centrioles-structures, which organize the mitotic spindle during cell division.

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