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Plants grow in interesting ways. You may have noticed that your houseplants “lean” towards the window, seeking the sunlight. This movement towards light is called phototropism. Tropism is a general term referring to any instance of growth or movement of an organism in response to the environment. Vines display another kind of tropism known as thigmotropism, meaning they respond to touch. In this set of four images, objects touched the vines and altered their course. The lengths of the vines indicate the lifetime of the vine, and the vines’ gradual taper towards the tip indicates the diminishing intensity of growth. In the fall, these tendrils dry up and leave behind a trace of the path the vine took during the year. These are fragments of wild grape vines found in Brookline, MA. The first time I noticed these vines was on my way to work, when the sinewy, dancing motion implied by this motionless object stopped me in my tracks. Observing and collecting the various shapes produced by these vines has become a daily meditation during my walk to and from a busy day of research at the Boston Children’s Hospital. I usually reflect on how, like the vines, our paths are altered by the objects and people that surround us. And while we often long for linearity in our lives, we actually leave behind beautiful, dynamic traces.

Contributed by Ian Hill, a fifth year graduate student in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences program at Harvard University, and our Featured Artist for January and February, 2018. To meet Ian and see more of his art, click here.

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