Around the Pier: Scripps PhD Student Draws Inspiration from the Sea


To some, science is hard to understand. It can be very complex and extremely technical.  For Adi Khen, it’s a source of inspiration for her art.

Khen, a first-year PhD student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, sees every marine animal as an opportunity to teach science.  As a UC San Diego undergraduate interning in various Scripps laboratories, Khen observed first-hand how useful a digital drawing can be to complement scientific research, and how digital art can often be used to emphasize details that may not be shown in photographs. One of Khen’s drawings – of key anatomical features of a bone-eating worm – has already appeared in a study by Scripps marine biologist Greg Rouse.

Khen was born in Israel and moved to Sunnyvale, Calif. when she was four years old.  She came to UC San Diego as an undergraduate and studied environmental sciences, though her interest in drawing started earlier when she was in high school.

“I did an oil painting of the Scripps Pier in high school; its framed and hanging at my parents’ house,” she said.  “Art is a way for me to express myself and to connect with others. As a tutor and mentor at the Preuss School at UC San Diego, a middle and high school for students from low-income households, it's amazing to see how they remember and respond to the drawings I show them,” said Khen.

Now Khen uses programs such as Adobe’s Photoshop and Illustrator to create scientifically accurate drawings of marine life to enhance some features of marine animals.  She spent a year working as a lab assistant for Scripps researcher Davey Kline and volunteering for Scripps marine ecologist Jennifer Smith, where she analyzed photographs of coral reefs to assess changes in growth, color, and other variables over time. Khen recognized how corals can serve as an indicator for climate change, and has decided to dedicate her research to coral reef preservation and restoration. Currently, she is conducting research in the lab of Scripps research biologist Greg Mitchell, where she was an intern last year, and is also continuing to work in the Smith lab. 

“I want to study coral reefs because they’re such valuable ecosystems teeming with life,” said Khen.  “However, with the advancement of climate change, bleaching of coral reefs is becoming more frequent and intense.  This means we need better ways to monitor and protect them, and I want to devote my career to their recovery.”

Khen has also started a blog, Adlysia, where she introduces her drawings and shares interesting facts about featured marine animals.

“Art is my hobby but it’s also a way for me to incorporate my research with something I really like to do,” she said.  “I want my blog to get people excited about science. There are so many cool facts to learn!”


–- Christina Wu


Related Image Gallery: Scripps PhD Student Draws Inspiration from the Sea

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