Innovating crosspoints; maker communities, DIYBio and universities

I was reading the article the other day about maker communities and how they are harnessing new tech and may help reboot manufacturing industry.  As someone working at university, it prompted me to think about the relationships that I am interested in developing with makers and DIYBio communities.

What I want is to make academics relevant and embedded in the community.  One of the  projects that I was involved in was called #Patchworks,  part of the Lancaster University Catalyst programme. Catalyst brought together a team of academics from a range of disciplines including social science, computing, design, environmental and management science and includes myself in biomedical sciences. It unites  with community organisations – large and small – based in Lancaster, Manchester, Derry-Londonderry, and further afield by working with high-profile partners such as the Manchester Digital Development Agency, FutureEverything, the RSA, and Community Matters.

The Patchworks project is a fusion of 2 community groups with Lancaster Uni academics; madlab in Manchester and Signposts in Morecambe.  The project is nearing its end now.  The idea was to carry out  transformative research on the theme of citizen-led social innovation.  This actually means people with needs coming up with a question and going through a creative process to develop cheap open source products that help them in their lives; improving overall health and well being. In this case the question was ‘how can technology be used to improve the lives of homeless people?’.  You might ask what is this guy doing working on this type of project? Well I think that the most creative areas are around the edges of what we know and experience. Everyone involved in this project has had to step out of their comfort zone and inhabit what I call the ‘discomfort zone’. Where we sometimes need to admit our ignorance and make mistakes becuase of our lack of knowledge and experience.   It has been a fantastic learning process for all involved in this and I hope to write more about this in the near future.

Meantime here is a short film intro about the project.

In vitro culture from football culture

Artist John O’Shea has been forging ahead with his Wellcome funded apig bladder football project which has a fantastic broad canvas encompassing football terrace fanaticism through to an exploration of the processes of making his own ‘bladder’ football  in vitro via cell tissue culture and extracellular matrices! Yey hey! You may ask what the…?? As a scientist interested in the collision between art and science processes I think this project takes some beating.
I won’t give you all the background to this project which is explained by John on his own site . Currently John has just finished the first phase of the project in which he explored the origins of football and the parallels between the production of the current synthetic plastic football and the  loss of ‘ownership’ of the football fan of the modern game of football.  This part of the project culminated in a series of workshops where people could have a go at making their own footballs from pigs bladders through to a debate hosted by Andy Miah on football fanaticism through to the opening of a pig bladder football boutique in the bohemian Bold St in Liverpool as part of the aptly named Abandon Normal Devices Festival.

I popped into the shop and as you can see there was a range of pig balls on display alongside some rather slick designed tops; the whole shop put me in mind of a sort of upmarket ladies underwear boutique (I have a good imagination). Anyway I think John is now starting to learn some tissue culture as a prelude to growing an in vitro-virtual human bladder.  This will involve him working in a ‘state of the art’  science lab in liverpool university using 1000’s of pounds worth of tissue culture media. This project should also feed back into the science research of collaboration of Professor John Hunt’s group  at University of Liverpool’s Clinical Engineering Research Unit by exploring the manipulation of human cells into frameworks appropriate for bladder tissue engineering strategies for bladder cancer patients.

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Visceral Reaction?

Went to the Visceral living art exhibition at the Science Gallery in Dublin the other day. It was well worth the trip. We got to see some of the output from some ten years of collaborations and residencies from artists working in SymbioticA, the art-science lab in Perth at the University of Western Australia. I like the idea suggested by Marshall McLuhan that artists might be regarded as canaries in the cultural coal mine of scientific research alerting the public to the consequences of new technologies. This fits in with my feeling of  scientists working alone in the semi darkness in the bottom of a  diamond mine; when we find a whopping big diamond we jump up and down for a while and then put it in our pocket and start digging for the next one. Guess we should tell someone about this big diamond but it sometimes takes too much time and effort and we are more excited about finding the next one. Well there are an increasing number of canaries out there nowadays twittering away (why do artists twitter so much more than scientists?  NO one I work with tweets) and doing art as well. Not sure if they are aware of all the noxious fumes emanating from our mines but they sure are producing some exciting art work.

‘Living art’ is how the exhibition is described and that is what excited me; seeing a group of living art exhibits together like this left me like the veritable kid in a sweet shop (aka candy store). I didn’t know where to start; whether to join the resident cricket audience listening to a lecture on their sex lives or whisper my fears to the semi-living worry dolls. I work with bacteria, insects and cell culture and felt very much at home in the exhibition,  this sort of exhibition is primarily about producing great art, but there is also the opportunity to build a bridge across from the science lab and translate some of the  new technologies being developed and ethical dilemmas facing us. Continue reading

Science and Culture

Being in Liverpool there is a debate to be had about what is ‘culture’. I was reading Phil Redmonds blog about his suggestion that culture could be defined as ‘arts, literature and shared lifestyle’. Then goes on to comment about scientists….me included who said ‘hey wait a minute’ we think that science has its place in culture….

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This is a blog about my interests in science and art and how I am working within and between the boundaries of the two.  There will be posts on my current research on the tropical disease leishmaniasis and the insects (sand flies) that spread the disease and my interests in microbes. Also stuff that interests me where artists are working  on an equal footing and in close collaboration with scientists.

My journey into ‘artscience’ for want of a better word started in Liverpool during Capital of Culture year 2008. I was desperate to do some art work related to my research on tropical diseases; the superlambanana wagon came along and I hitched onto it and got the LSTM to sponsor a lambanana. That was when SuperKalazarlambanana…the name that was far too complicated and everyone mispelt, was created one afternoon between myself and my PhD student Hector Diaz. (see also LSTM page on our lambanana).

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