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Art complements science for chemistry professor

On a ferry near the Greek Islands, a Japanese tourist approached professor Bill Hancock to show him the tiny portrait she had sketched. It was of Hancock in an unguarded moment.

His glimpse at his own likeness, about eight years ago, liberated him, recalls the Bradstreet Chair in bioanalytical chemistry at the Barnett Institute of Chemical and Biological Analysis.

“I thought, ‘I can do that,’ and as soon as the boat docked, I bought a sketchbook and a pen,” Hancock says. “The results were dreadful! But after a time, the results started having some resemblance to the object I was sketching.”

Like most beginning artists, he started with watercolor paints. He took some classes at the Pacific Art League in California to learn a little technique, and was soon thoroughly bitten by the bug to paint and sketch.

The Australian native is highly credentialed in the world of chemical and biological analysis —he holds a doctoral degree from Adelaide University, and has served in many capacities, including a visiting scientist with the Bureau of Drugs at the Food and Drug Administration in Washington, D.C.; principal scientist at Hewlett Packard Laboratories; visiting professor in chemical engineering at Yale University; vice president of Proteomics at Thermo Finnigan Corp. in San Jose, Calif.; and president of the California Separation Science Society of San Francisco for 10 years.

But he is also an artist. During his many international trips, Hancock has stopped a moment to capture a scene, using pastels, color markers, pencil, or watercolor. “I never have much time for this, so my works are usually done in a couple of hours,” Hancock says. “I always keep a little sketchbook with me, and I’ve captured some scenes from Australia, California, Sydney Harbor; these would be the ones that had a lot of impact for me.”

Hancock has branched out with his work, capturing prominent figures in the news, including Dr. Jack Kevorkian and Rupert Murdoch. He recently entered a colorful portrait of Murdoch in the Northeastern art show. The art is a nice balance to his serious science pursuits, he says.

Hancock joined Northeastern University in 2002. He has published over 190 scientific works and seven books. He holds 15 patents, and has received numerous honors, including the Martin Gold Medal in Separation Science, from the British Chromatographic Society, and the Stephen dal Nogare Memorial Award in Chromatography and the ACS Award in Chromatography.

At Barnett, his research focuses on cancer proteomics and he is president of the Human Proteome Organization in the United States. “The art,” he says, “is a classic left-brain thing. It’s a nice balance.”

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