UTA Q&A: Rhonda Prisby

Scientist’s love of art influences her research, leads to groundbreaking discoveries

Tuesday, Jan 07, 2020 • Elizabeth Couch :

Rhonda Prisby, associate professor of kinesiology in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at The University of Texas at Arlington

Rhonda Prisby’s fascination with the arts nearly led her to become a medical illustrator.

Instead, a passion for research led not only to her life’s work studying vascular function in bones, but also a groundbreaking discovery: the presence of microscopic particles of bone in the bloodstream, large enough to clog the smallest blood vessels in the vascular tree. This insight could help physicians detect and treat potentially life-threatening conditions.

Prisby, associate professor of kinesiology in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at The University of Texas at Arlington, believes her background as an artist makes her a better scientist.

1. How were you able to combine your passions for art and science?

I had always been interested in physiology, but I was also fascinated by the arts. When I was an undergrad, I considered becoming a medical illustrator because I was interested in the human form. After I completed my degree, I still had a fascination for physiological processes, so I decided to pursue kinesiology.

2. Has your background in art impacted the way you conduct research?

I used to think that my artistic ability was distinct from my scientific work. I have come to realize they complement one another. I notice that when I am designing my studies or I’m thinking about the next study, there is a level of creativity that’s brought into it that I think has been stimulated by having an art degree and having this creative side.

I have found that art and science share similar traits. Like art, research allows me to come up with my own ideas, be creative and ask, “What if?” Artistic creativity has been very beneficial because it represents a different way of thinking and approaching a problem.

3. Has your artistic eye led to scientific findings?

Not only has my art background allowed for innovative and creative experimental questions and designs, but it also facilitated a groundbreaking scientific discovery. By examining seemingly unrelated images and linking the details of them together, I was able to discover what appeared to be bone-like particles in rodent and human blood. Some of these circulating particles are large enough to clog the smallest blood vessels. This discovery made me appreciate my artistic training once again, particularly in relation to developing an eye for detail.