Zoethica: Resource for science and art lesson plans



Zoethica (zoe + ethical; "zoe" from Greek meaning "life") is a collection of the lesson plans and instructions for studying nature through creative and playful art making. The goal is to encourage curiosity and interest in nature and science. The students are empowered through new skills and knowledge as they create sculptures and murals by following the clear and easy instructions. The lesson plans can be implemented in the classrooms, summer camps, after-school programs, and other venues looking for fun and educational activities.

Zoethica was developed during Peter Krsko's residency (Spring 2017) presented by the Division of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arts Institute and hosted by the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, with Sundaram Gunasekaran PhD as lead faculty. Co-sponsors include the Departments of Art, Design Studies (Majid Sarmadi PhD) and Physics (Pupa Gilbert PhD). The community partners were Wormfarm Institute and Olbrich Botanical Gardens. The guest artists were Katie Schofield and Dan Steinhilber.


The goal of this residency was to develop novel concepts, methods and materials in order to create new artwork, and more importantly, advance new bioinspired solutions to current societal challenges. Krsko encouraged student interactions, project-oriented learning and the development of new original artwork. This artwork was installed in public spaces, exhibited in Woolen Mill gallery, Olbrich Botanical Gardens and published in this online resource www.zoethica.com, with the goal of continuing to educate the public about bioinspired systems after the residency’s conclusion.


Course: BSE 375 / Art 469/ Design Studies 469 - Interdisciplinary Studies in the Arts
Title: Zoethica: Bioinspired Art and Science
Day/Time: Tuesdays/Thursdays, 4:30 - 6:00 pm
Credits: 3
Limit: 18 students from any discipline
Prereq: None

Students engage in a hands-on study of the natural world utilizing modern instrumentation. Krsko guides students to observe natural materials, organisms and systems at micro-, meso- and macroscopic levels. During this process, students analyze artistic and scientific approaches to studying nature and develop novel materials and systems based on natural concepts. The students review current literature, engage in lab measurements and develop their own artwork (to be exhibited at the end of the semester) as well as create bioinspired STEAM curricula for the Zoethica website.


Trained as a physicist, Peter Krsko utilizes advanced techniques and instruments for studying the universe and shares the findings via hands-on workshops, participatory sculptures and mural projects.

The courses and workshops combine science and art; participatory, interactive and community arts; and play with hands-on education. It is a result of his graduate work in Biophysics and Materials Science at Stevens Institute of Technology. During that time he developed a novel lithography method using a focused electron beam and created artworks viewable only with a microscope. Their popularity has revealed the power of art to educate and empower wider public with new knowledge that is otherwise not accessible.

After receiving the PhD degree, he was awarded a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health, where his interests expanded into larger sculptural projects, medically-relevant biological communities, forms resulting from dynamic motion, bioinspired materials, colors and vision and the combination of science and art in order to develop unique lesson plans for young students. Today, he continues providing educational services to schools, summer camps, after-school programs and correctional facilities.


Photo galleries from the spring 2017 Interdisciplinary Arts Residency program.

Installations in Olbrich Botanical Gardens:

Artist: Peter Krsko
Title: "Iridescence"

Many organisms in nature exhibit colorization that is not a result of pigments, but ordered nanoscopic structures that cause reflected light to interfere with itself. Looking at a peacock feather at varying angles, it changes color, because the colors get either reinforced or canceled. Walk through the installation and experience its changing color.

Artist: Dan Steinhilber
Title: "Untitled"

Any fantasy I may have had to make some marble statuary for a garden changed with the improvisation of cytoskeleton structure, silk worm wrapping and the natural “behavior” of these unnatural materials used in agriculture.

Artist: Evan Eifler
Title: "Solar Rhythm Visualized"

The idea behind the piece is to mimic flowers by creating a kinetic sculpture that uses properties of nature to open and close with the light of the sun. The bifurcating tubes radiate from a central balloon, each ending in a recycled glass bottle. As the sun warms the airtight system throughout the day, the air within the bottles and tubing expands, inflating the balloon.

Artists: Various
Title: "Honeycomb"
Add your own compartment to the constantly growing honeycomb. This community project has been growing through the entire length of Krsko’s residency at the UW–Madison Arts Institute.

Artist: Kimberly Gromek
Title: "Apoptosis"

Apoptosis is programmed cell death that is a normal part of an organism’s development. Current research is looking to utilize this controlled mechanism of death as defense against viruses and other foreign intruders. To achieve apoptosis, the cell self-destructs from the inside out, destroying its own structure, but not leaking it to the surrounding environment.

Artist: Margaret Wiley
Title: "Broken Mirror"

Mirror neurons fire both when an individual performs an action and observes an action. When mirror neurons do not function typically, like in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the ability to perceive others is inhibited. The distorted mirror figure prevents us from seeing a clear reflection; this represents the difficulty one with ASD may have in observing and learning from others.

Artist: Joel Cryer
Title: "Hyperbolic Paraboloid Trellis"

The hyperbolic paraboloid is a plane with two main curves diverging in three dimensions. These paraboloids and their mathematical kin are visible in nature in the crooks of branches, the structures of certain flowers and the ridged growth forms of corals and some fungi.

Artist: Katie Schofield
Title: "Turkey Tails"

This crocheted installation is inspired by turkey tail fungi, an ever present sight in the woods. Fungi are an important part of our ecosystem, breaking down dead organic material into forms other organisms can use, helping to transform trees into soil in slow, small movements.

Artist: Peter Krsko
Title: "Stabilimentia"

Spiders create decorative elements within their webs to attract prey, to camouflage, to signal and communicate. After studying the spiders’ movement and repeating it by stretching thin plastic, this form happened.

Artists: Rebecca Green and Leo Steiner
Title: "Neon Neurons"

This piece was inspired by neurological development. As the brain develops, axons become increasingly myelinated, which allows for better communication between neurons. The brain doesn’t stop developing until early to mid-20s, so as you walk along the path, you will notice the amount of myelin increasing as if you were walking through a developing brain.

Artists: Halley Feil and Kevin Raymer
Title: "Conch Out"

This structure represents the acidification process happening to organisms who form shells out of calcium carbonate in the oceans. Due to excess CO2 in the atmosphere that the ocean is absorbing, chemical imbalances are causing shells and corals to disintegrate. The goal is to spread awareness by creating an interactive body of what will soon be no more, if changes in carbon emission usage do not decrease.

Artist: Christopher "CJ" Jossart
Title: "Non-Euclidean Growth"

This non-Euclidean growth demonstrated by the concrete folds illustrate what happens as life grows larger as the space it is in. The folds mimic the surfaces that can be found on the shells, petals and other tissues in nature.

Artist: Peter Krsko
Title: "Monarda"

In late January, during a hike through a thawing marsh, I came across dry plants with the remnants of what must have been a flower a few months earlier. Back in the studio I was intrigued to rebuild the dead flower by attaching truncated cones to each other, until the spherical surface emerged.

Artists: Margaret Seybold and Jessi Havens
Title: "Growing"

Every tree functions as a colossal distribution network that pumps thousands of gallons of water and sap throughout its body. In buildings, PVC pipes are used to distribute water. Here, they replace the trunk and branches of trees to support the plants living at their ends.

Artist: Patrick Noel
Title: "One Big Family"

Jellyfish move in massive colonies through the oceans. Drifting on the currents to get to their destination, they manage to float together as a large family.

Artists: Peter Krsko and Katie Schofield
Title: "Renewal"

The materials intended for the construction industry are made by harvesting trees and milling them into sterile, right-angled forms. Built during the time of spring growth and inspired by long walks in the woods, the lumber and lath are returned back to their original organic form.

Artist: Kayla Pfeiffer-Mundt
Title: "Slime Mold Pandemic"

Infectious disease has been with humanity for millennia, and will likely continue to be a problem far into the future. Time-lapse photography shows a slime mold (representing an infectious pathogen) spreading across a map of the world. The purpose of this art piece is to show that in an interconnected and globalized world, we are all vulnerable to infectious disease risks.

Artist: Olivia Sanderfoot
Title: "Shattered Landscapes"

Habitat fragmentation is a major threat to thousands of species. Unintentionally, humans have destroyed much of the intact habitat that plants and animals rely on for their survival. This piece was created to illustrate the violent nature of habitat fragmentation and its effect on ecological communities.

Other Installations:

Inner Foam

Artist: Peter Krsko
Title: "Inner Foam"
The lines suggest the boundaries between the cells in a compartmentalized space, such as bubbles in foam, cells in biological tissue or vesicles. External stimuli or intercellular disequilibria choreograph their shape. Created for The Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Artists: Peter Krsko and Katie Schofield
in Woolen Mill Gallery, Reedsburg, WI

Cohesion Tension

Artist: Peter Krsko and Katie Schofield
Title: "Cohesion Tension"
in City Park, Reedsburg, WI


Artist: Peter Krsko
in Birge Hall, University of Wisconsin-Madison

(c) Peter Krsko 2019