Nhan Chau: Designing for science at Maine EPSCoR

Growing up in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, Nhan Chau and her little brother would watch cartoons together — Doraemon, a Japanese anime about a time-traveling robotic cat, was their favorite. She promised him that one day, she would make art of her own.

As an intern at Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine, which oversees and implements Maine’s jurisdiction of the National Science Foundation Estab­lished Program to Stim­u­late Com­pet­i­tive Research (EPSCoR), Chau may not be drawing cartoon cats, but she is applying her artistic talents to communicating and promoting top-notch science initiatives — and learning about her own creative process along the way. 

Chau, a senior majoring in new media with a minor in graphic design and a member of the Honors College, applied for an internship position at Maine EPSCoR this past spring semester. Even though the position was advertised as a writing assistant, she included her portfolio of photography and graphic design as well. 

Luckily, that kind of creativity was just what Maine EPSCoR was looking for.

“What I really wanted was someone to do videos,” says Daniel Timmermann, technical communications specialist at Maine EPSCoR and Chau’s supervisor. “Between her graphic design and animation work and familiarity with that type of storytelling, I felt that that was something she could definitely learn. She was game, and it turned out really well. It’s very rare that you have someone come in who can contribute to the team immediately.” 

Chau’s duties at EPSCoR have run the gamut since she started working there in May 2022, including writing articles for the Maine-eDNA website; drawing illustrations for the forthcoming edition of the Maine EPSCoR magazine; managing the program’s social media postings and graphics; and taking and editing photos and videos of researchers at work.

Chau sees the value in using her artistic eye to promote what she says as “really important” work. 

“In addition to just appealing to the scientific community, appealing to the wider, general public is also good to bridge that communication so they can chime in on what is happening,” Chau says. “It’s very exciting to see people who are very good at their crafts doing the thing that they’re doing.”

Timmermann says that Chau has been an enormous asset for the Maine EPSCoR office. He was impressed with her overhaul of the Maine-eDNA website, combing through the websites of other university research institutes to figure out what worked and looked aesthetically nice to apply to the website redesign. 

“It looks nice, it’s informative and something that people can maneuver easily,” Timmermann says. “It takes a lot of time to develop and work through the bad ideas and having someone like her who is not only creatively talented but knows how to use the design tools is a big help. From last June onwards, I think it’s hard to find a project that she didn’t in some way have a hand in that our office put out, whether it’s a publication or a website.”

Most notably, Chau helped create a large portion of the resources the office used for the 27th National Science Foundation (NSF) EPSCoR National Conference in Portland, which was hosted by Maine EPSCoR. She designed a new logo for the event and helped produce all of the marketing materials for the conference. 

“She takes on a really broad range of creative responsibilities and has really been able to contribute,” Timmermann says. “We’re very lucky that we found her because not a lot of folks are able to come in and do that as students. The conference was a large undertaking and out of all of the projects that’s one she should be particularly proud of.”

Chau says that her internship has not only influenced how she thinks about her artistic process, but has also prepared her for a career after graduation.

“If I could incorporate more science into my craft, it would appeal to a wider audience. Science, math and physics also help with animation; it relates a lot,” Chau says. “Actually designing and editing something for actual clients is a big pressure and responsibility. Now I’m ready for a real-world job.”

Contact: Sam Schipani, samantha.schipani@maine.edu