2010 Forward under 40 Award Honoree
UW Major: Cellular and Molecular Biology
Age: 38 | Sun Prairie, Wisconsin
Assistant Professor of Genetics, UW-Madison
"Science and art were always the same in our household."
The academic world likes to talk about the conflict between the "two cultures" – the sciences and the humanities – but for Ahna Skop, there's no real division. There's only learning. She was raised in a family that explored all areas of knowledge – her father was Michael Skop, an artist and part-time medical illustrator who also taught college-level anatomy. He was a pupil of the Croatian artist Mestrovic, who was a pupil of Rodin.
"My father was a sculptor, painter and welder, but he was also a medical illustrator," she says. "If there was something he couldn't do, he'd learn it. And my mother is an art teacher, but she also loved to dissect. She used to make jewelry from the designs she saw from cross-sections of fish she dissected. They are amazingly beautiful!"
As Ahna grew up, her parents encouraged her to pursue a fascination with science ad research. In her UW lab, she uses C. elegans nematode worms to study how early embryos develop right after fertilization.
But she never let go of other interests. At the UW, she helped organize an exhibit that graces the Genetics/Biotechnology addition, featuring art created from microscopic images. She also designs jewelry and has created numerous logos used internationally for meetings of scientists who study C. elegans nematode worms. When out of the lab, she focuses her attention on the kitchen. "Cooking is just another form of chemistry," she says. She maintains a cooking blog – foodskop.wordpress.com – as well as one related to her jewelry: beadskop.com.
She owes her polymath fascination to her father, who passed away in June 2009 and whom she still describes as her hero and her inspiration. "Like Dad, I'm always looking to try something new," she says. "Whenever I see something I haven't done, I want to go out and try it."