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Sophie McKay-Knight and Chrysalis

Sophie McKay-Knight

Sophie grew up near Liverpool and is now a professional artist, living and working in Fife, near Edinburgh. She gained her degree in fine art from the Edinburgh College of Art and has been painting, exhibiting and teaching ever since. Sophie did not study science at school, because she thought it had nothing to do with art, but she has since revised this opinion, realising that they do actually have a lot in common.

Out of a fascination with the aesthetic beauty of the DNA molecule, Sophie developed a series of paintings based on the nature/nurture debate, and has recently been working with women scientists from the University of St Andrews, exploring their individual subject areas and various life paths. She is very interested in ideas of transformation and flight, and although she is mainly a figurative artist, some of Sophie’s work features birds and nature.
Sophie can’t imagine a world without art, but when not painting in her studio, she also enjoys reading, walking by the sea and learning Italian, although not all at the same time! She has an energetic daughter, a patient husband, a furry black cat and a guinea pig called Orinoco.


Chrysalis is an ongoing project at the University of St Andrews in Scotland that raises awareness of and creates opportunities for women in science. The initiative brings early career researchers into informal conversations with established researchers. These conversations are occasionally prompted in terms of subject, but are at all times led by the researchers, and topics have ranged from career prospects inside and outside of academia to happiness and the work–life balance.

Chrysalis’s collaboration with Sophie McKay-Knight started with the project inviting her to attend a conversation session. Sophie also met independently with women researchers at all career levels to discuss their inspirations, their work, their hopes and aspirations. The resulting artworks reflect these collective and private conversations, and use images of research provided by the researchers, including depictions of single ion channel read-outs; DNA, crystal and protein structures; hummingbirds and insects; and immortal cell lines. From the enigmatic ‘Wish You Were Here’, a work inspired by the dual longings of separation from loved ones and dedication to a research project, to ‘Hidden Learning’, which explores those parts of ourselves we keep hidden, this partnership has been extremely rewarding for all of those taking part, giving space for self-reflection and growth.