Contact: Alexander Shtifman
Phone: 617-713-8989

For many scientists and clinicians, an appreciation for art, music or dance is more than just a hobby - it's a passion that sustains and feeds them, helping them push the bounds of their research. Recently, PCMM/IDI Senior Investigator Tom Kirchhausen was featured in CHB's Vector Magazine in an article in which several clinician-scientists shared how their artistic interests have influenced them inside and outside the research arena.

Tom Kirchhausen, PhD, a cell biologist and investigator in the Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine and the Immune Disease Institute, studies "membrane traffic," a way by which cells move hormones, growth factors and viruses in and out of the cell. He is well known for his keen graphic sense and the movies he produces in collaboration with animators, illustrating how cells work at the molecular level. His laboratory was one of the first to capture the entry of a virus into cells using real-time imaging.

Originally from Peru, my family has always been involved in the arts: one sister is in theater and the other a play writer; a niece is in theater and my nephew recently finished training as a movie director. My mother migrated from Europe to Peru, and when she came she used her skills in painting batiks on cloth to sell them to tourists.

Before I was 16, I used to paint, did photography and some music, and produced several movies. One movie had a script, actors and music and was a story about friendship. In another, I managed to convince a doctor to let me use his x-ray machine linked to a 16-mm film camera, normally used to follow catheter probes in patients, to image a boa constrictor in real time as it was feeding. As I grew older, my artistic interests shifted towards graphic representations connected to science and nature.

Most of my research is done in three dimensions. Cells are utterly complex, and good 3D representations are essential to help me explain how cellular processes operate, study them and understand how they function and behave under normal conditions, under stress and when exposed to medicines or drugs. There's no difference in the way I communicate with the graphic designers who help build 3D models for us and with my scientific colleagues with whom I engage in research and discovery: I often start by sketching a concept, and we then work together to evolve a more mature idea. I always encourage their inventiveness and creativity.

I dream about doing art recreationally but I don't think I have the attention span or time. I do find that it infiltrates itself into my research, and I'd say the way I express myself is through my work. I did design my office space, as I've also helped design websites, brochures and t-shirts for our program. I would love to someday design a building or a public space.