When thinking of art and science, it’s easy to separate these two distant disciplines as opposite ways of viewing the world. However, when you dive deeper, you come to realize that they are built on the same foundation; to communicate a vision or idea. For Elizabeth Larson, this was the fuel that drove her to found Learn to Play.
In the spring of 2021, Larson completed her undergraduate studies at Willamette University. In the beginning, Larson had attended Willamette with the intention of only receiving a Bachelor's in Chemistry; however, she happened to stumble upon a welding class that led her to explore art, and eventually received her Bachelor’s degree in Studio Art as well. Throughout this exploration of art and science, Larson stumbled upon a need to explain complex biochemical structures on a large level.
“So I became really interested in sculpture, and also, I was working with a lot of really intricate biochemicals in this biochemistry lab,” says Larson. “And we were building these DNA scaffolds for cancer detection, and these structures were so hard to explain to people because there was no way to conceptualize them three-dimensionally.”
Since finding the avenue for demonstrating concepts, Larson has explored different ways to help people better understand biochemical structures. Through this process, Larson created Learn to Play, a nucleic acid playground composed of large three-dimensional structures to create an educational space for all.
“I just became really fixated on this idea; maybe it's partially because I really love teaching,” states Larson. “And so I kind of saw this opportunity to bring together all these things that I was so passionate about, which was the science, the art, and education.”
Throughout her innovation process, Larson pays homage to the Invent Oregon programming as a space that has allowed her to bring this idea to fruition and explore the space of entrepreneurship.
“I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. I think my whole life, I’ve been playing roulette with what, you know, what is my future career? What’s my future path?” Larson goes on to say, “It’s nice to feel like I maybe have more of an answer to that question that I actually feel really excited about.”
Larson goes on to share how incredible it was to witness all of the workshops Invent Oregon hosted for students and witness other competitors pitch their ideas. “I really hope that network stays close and that we continue to support each other.”
Moving forward, Larson plans to target communities throughout Portland with the hopes of building these spaces for science education. With the right amount of funding, Learn to Play can begin installing their science-based playgrounds across different parts of Oregon. Eventually, Larson would like to scale this to a national level where Learn to Play could offer various learning spaces with different themes.
Larson added, “By placing these educational spaces in a true public setting and having there be no admission or any requirements for partaking or playing in these spaces, that maybe it could be more accessible, and we can change the narrative around science.”