Kawalek Group

Arts, Sciences and Technology

Embedded within the PME, STAGE — Scientists, Technologists and Artists Generating Exploration — is a full-scale laboratory devoted entirely to meaningful collaborations among scientists and artists.

STAGE’s distinct research focuses on creating and developing new theatre work inspired by science and technology. Technology is integrated into the staging of plays as a vital part of telling the story, not just for special effect, affording exploration of the interface between live theatre and technologies, such as that of the moving image. Rather than science lectures disguised as plays, these are emotionally engaging, entertaining stories – visceral experiences that stimulate interest in science and technology and capture the public's attention, with an enduring impact.

While maintaining a primary concentration on theatrical performance, the Lab’s work includes forays into video, film, and new forms of narrative performance and technology. In all endeavors, STAGE’s research directions are guided by several factors: a need to promote the understanding of the sciences in the public arena; a growing, widely-publicized debate between scientific fact and fiction; scientists’ awareness of their own challenges in communicating their work more effectively, and their hunger to do so; and a desire to cultivate appreciation and collaboration between the two cultures of science and art.


Principal Investigator

Nancy Kawalek


Curiosity: The Making of a Scientist

The documentary-style web series, Curiosity: The Making of a Scientist, is a research project encompassing storytelling, science communication, and filmmaking. Curiosity takes us into the labs and lives of scientists to explore what motivates, and is involved in, choosing a career in science, what inspires scientific investigation, and the nature of curiosity itself. Collaborative creative teams of postdoctoral scholars, graduate students and undergraduates employ STAGE's interdisciplinary process in the development of each scientist's story. By showcasing the diversity of disciplines and of the individuals drawn to dedicate their lives to scientific pursuits, STAGE hopes the series can resonate with, and inspire, a broad audience. Curiosity is made possible through the support of the National Science Foundation, Jonathan Logan Family Foundation Media Center, and UChicago Career Advancement.


In collaboration with PME Assistant Professor Tian Zhong, Entanglement is a new performance project about quantum entanglement. Interactive exhibits at the Museum of Science and Industry and at the Consulate General of France in Chicago's Night of Ideas: Alive! at the Field Museum, have helped STAGE prototype concepts of superposition, entanglement and teleportation with general audiences. Initial research included STAGE's work with The Hong Kong Jockey Club University of Chicago Academic Complex | Francis and Rose Yuen Campus in Hong Kong to delve into the work of media artist Jeffrey Shaw (City University of Hong Kong), martial artist Oscar Lam, visual artist Victor Wong and Hing Chao (International Guoshu Association) to create a life-like avatar of the late kung fu master Lam Sai Wing's techniques. Entanglement is made possible through support from the Chicago Materials Research Center, Croucher Foundation, National Science Foundation and the Provost's Global Faculty Awards.

The River Project

The River Project highlights the human, behind-the-scenes stories of the Water-to-Cloud (W2C) system of monitoring water quality using next-generation mobile sensor networks. Oral histories from inhabitants along the Yamuna River in India are the initial source materials for STAGE's collaboration with Supratik Guha, PME Professor and Senior Advisor, Physical Sciences and Engineering at Argonne, and W2C PI; Surajit Sarkar, Associate Professor at the Centre for Community Knowledge at Ambedkar University Delhi; W2C Project Director Priyank Hirani and Team Lead Himank Sharma. Personal narratives and traditional music of the region form the basis of a new performance. This story about clean water, technology and climate change is also a story of the culture, heritage and traditions of India's waterways. The River Project is made possible by The University of Chicago Center in Delhi, the Provost's Global Faculty Awards and the Water-to-Cloud project.

Ongoing Projects

The Art of Questionable Provenance

In The Art of Questionable Provenance the lives of a photojournalist, a neuropathologist, an art forensic expert, and a fortune teller intersect around a bizarre crime. A tale of perception that parallels the functions of the brain and explores critical themes emerging from modern neuroscience, The Art of Questionable Provenance examines how we piece together the stories – real or illusory – of our selves.

Bend, Fold, Break

A young scientist, at a critical point in her career, receives notice of a mysterious package left to her by the late mother she never knew. What she finds when she travels to Japan to retrieve her inheritance is much more than she ever could have imagined. Dealing with themes of identity, culture, and heritage, alongside the scientist's research into DNA folding patterns, Bend, Fold, Break asks how we define ourselves—as scientists and artists, as individuals, and as family. 

Future Projects

The Information Palace

As the Nazis rise to power across Europe, a six-year-old girl vanishes while playing hide-and-seek in Belgium's Palais Mondial, an international archive of 15 million index cards built to contain the breadth of human knowledge. After a lifetime of searching, her brother encounters and information scientist who transforms the nature of the investigation into the girl's disappearance.

Molecular Gastronomy

Loosely inspired by a true story: a Korean nun's serendipitous gift for molecular gastronomy shows the world the true meaning of "better living through chemistry."


Two women, a critical moment in history, and the fundamental principle of symmetry.  

Blurring the Boundaries between Science and Art

Nancy Kawalek. Publications. TEDx. 2016. On the Margins.

Paula S. Apsell STAGE Advisory Board Member
Christopher Ash Designer
Ellen Askey Filmmaker
Jas Brooks Human Computer Integration Lab PhD Candidate
Dwier Brown Actor
Srivatsan Chakram University of Rutgers
Sanskriti Chitransh Physics PhD Candidate
Kevin Depinet Designer
Peter Duda Pritzker Nanofabrication Facility
Margaret Gardel University of Chicago 
Michael Gazzinga University of California Santa Barbara
Angela Goethals Actor
Geoffrey Grinstein Physicist
Supratik Guha University of Chicago/Argonne National Laboratory
Craig Hamill PME Director of Information Technology
Theresa Ham Designer
Priyank Hirani The Rockefeller Foundation
Kenneth Kosik University of California Santa Barbara
Christopher Kriz Designer
James Lashly Actor
Rachel Levy Designer
Walter E. Massey STAGE Advisory Board Member
Nutan Maurya Environmental Anthropologist
Ann Merchant STAGE Advisory Board Member
Saba Mundlay Illustrator and Developer
Natalia Povarova Microbiology Postdoctoral Scholar
Sukanya Randhawa Auroville Consulting/WaterRising Institute
Surajit Sarkar Ambedkar University Delhi
David Schuster University of Chicago
Maurizio Seracini Editech Art & Science SRL
Himank Sharma Tata Center for Development at UChicago
Tian Zhong University of Chicago