It is a rare treat to get the opportunity to honor a truly remarkable person who has incidentally played a role in your own story. Cathy Drennan was not only a cheerfully supportive member of my thesis committee when I was a graduate student, she was also one of my earliest clients. In 2011, when I was still teaching and getting O’Reilly Science Art off the ground, she hired me to make several illustrations for her HHMI-funded teacher training materials on diversity and stereotype threat. That led to another project creating graphics and animations for her Behind the Scenes at MIT project, a series of 2-minute videos featuring an MIT grad student, post doc or professor describing their research at a level that could be understood by freshman chemistry students. This project was a huge boon to my early career and perfectly dovetailed with my day job of teaching general chemistry to college freshmen.
So, when Cathy’s husband contacted me this summer about making a poster for her 20-year lab reunion I was thrilled. The hardest part was choosing from the dozens of protein structures her lab has solved using X-ray crystallography over the past 20 years. I decided to arrange them in chronological order according to when the structures were solved, and because of the lab’s focus on metalloproteins, I let the metals provide the light source so that the structures were like lanterns illuminating the long and winding path from 1999 to 2019.
So here’s to 20 more years of illuminating work in the lab and in the classroom, and if you want to hear Cathy talk about how growing up with dyslexia didn’t get the better of her insatiable desire to learn, you can listen to this story from last week on WBUR.