Monday, 21 June 2010

Let's Get Liminal! Scientific Art & Artistic Science, June 30th

 Mer de Glace, EMMA STIBBON
What happens in that space where science meets art and art meets science? Come along to this half-day seminar to have a look at what's going on and what will be happening, both at Bristol University and outside. Speakers will be showing films of mathematicians and scientists talking about how they do what they do, beautiful scientific images, an artistic collaboration between a glaciologist and an artist, a course on creativity for medical students and more...

We are delighted to welcome special guests Oron Catts, director of SymbioticA, Australia's artistic laboratory dedicated to the research, learning, critique and hands-on engagement with the life sciences, and UK-based artist Kira O'Reilly, a former SymbioticA artist-in-residence. Scroll down for more information about the speakers. 

When: Wed June 30th 2010, from 2-6pm, including drinks & nibbles, 
Where: NSQI Centre, Tyndall Avenue (opposite the Arts and Social Sciences Library)

What's Happening:  
2.00 - 2.10 Welcome: Tania Hershman, Science Faculty Writer in Residence 
2.10 - 2.25 Maggie Leggett, Director, Centre for Public Engagement, 2011 Changing Perspectives exhibition 
2.25 - 2.45 Professor Jon Keating, Dean of the Science Faculty, Chrystal Cherniwchan, Science Faculty films and portraits 
2.45 - 3.15 Dr Louise Younie, Catherine Lamont-Robinson, Out of Our Heads, creativity for medical students 
3.15 - 3.30 Becky Jones, organiser, The Art of Science Competition 
3.30 - 3.50 Dr Giles Brown (glaciologist) and his artistic collaborator Emma Stibbon 
3.50 - 4.00 BREAK 
4.00 - 4.20 Kira O'Reilly, artist, SymbioticA residency 
4.20 - 5.05 Oron Catts, director, SymbioticA, art and science collaborative research lab 
5.05 - 6pm Drinks & nibbles


Tania Hershman is fiction-writer-in-residence in Bristol University's Science Faculty. Find out more at

Maggie Leggett: Head of Department, Centre for Public Engagement. Maggie will be introducing Changing Perspectives, an exhibition planned for Spring 2011 which seeks to engage and alter the perspectives of a wide range of people though art inspired by science – life, physical and social science - produced by artists in collaboration with University of Bristol staff and students.

Professor Jon Keating is Dean of the Faculty of Science and Professor of Mathematical Physics.

Chrystal Cherniwchan studied photography at the Alberta College of Art & Design, in Canada. After completing her BFA, she spent several years assisting and developing her own documentary practice. Chrystal is now based in the UK, and is currently working on a series of short documentary films and portraits, profiling mathematicians and scientists at the University of Bristol.
Dr Louise Younie is aGP and teaching fellow at Bristol University's Medical School. she also delivers a 2nd year taught SSC "Exploring the creative arts in health and illness". This involves co-facilitation with artists and creative therapists where the students engage in dialogue, reflection and their own creative work. Creativity and the arts in medical education was also the topic of her MSc dissertation. 

Catherine Lamont-Robinson is an artist and curator of Out of Our Heads, a project by students and staff of University of Bristol Medical school to showcase creative work. It is often said that medicine is both Art and Science. In the modern medical curriculum there is a goodly amount of science. But what about the Art? What is it, is it important and should it be part of the curriculum?

Becky Jones is a PhD student in the Department of Biochemistry and the organiser of The Art of Science, a competition in the Faculty of Medical and Veterinary Sciences in collaboration with @Bristol. The challenge, open to postgraduates across the faculty, was to represent scientific research in all its aesthetic beauty.
Dr Giles Brown is a glaciologist in the University's School of Geographical Studies, focussing on glacier meltwater hydrochemistry, chemical weathering processes and rate in mountain/cold environments; snow chemistry; glacier and snow hydrology. He collaborated with artist Emma Stibbon: The emphasis of Stibbon’s research is on the relationship between the mutability of place and the process of drawing.Exploring the temporal qualities of a glacier through drawing. An artist working primarily on paper, she has established her reputation through a wide exhibition profile and a series of residencies and awards.

Kira O’Reilly is a UK based artist; her practice, both wilfully interdisplinary and entirely undisciplined, stems from a visual art background; it employs performance, biotechnical practices and writing with which to consider speculative reconfigurations of bodies.

Since graduating from the University of Wales Institute Cardiff in 1998 with a BA (HONS) in Fine Art, her performance works have been exhibited widely throughout the UK, Europe, Australia, China and Mexico.

In October 2004 she completed an artist residency at SymbioticA, School of Anatomy and Human Biology, University of Western Australia, funded by a Wellcome Trust sciart research and development award. She was concerned with exploring convergence between contemporary biotechnical tissue culturing and traditional lace making crafts, using the materiality of skin at its cellular level as material and metaphor. She has continued and expanded these investigations as artist in residence in the School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, funded by Arts Council of England and Wellcome Trust where she is investigating using spider silk and bone, muscle and nerve cell cultures as biomedia, and the relations between tissue, text and textile Рas variants on the theme of techn̩ with writing outcomes.

In 2009 new works included falling sleep with a pig (2009) commissioned by The Arts Catalyst for INTERSPECIES. She presented Stair Falling (2009) exhibited as part of Marina Abramovic Presents . . . at Manchester International Festival. Her work inthewrongplaceness (2005 – 2009) was curated by Jens Hauser in the highly successful sk-interfaces, Creating Membranes in Art, Technology and Society, at Casino Luxembourg.

In autumn 2010 she beings an AHRC funded three year creative fellowship at Department of Drama, Queen Mary University of London; Thresholds of Performance: Between Body, Laboratory and Text.

Oron Catts is director of SymbioticA, an artistic laboratory dedicated to the research, learning, critique and hands-on engagement with the life sciences. SymbioticA’s emphasis is on experiential practice. SymbioticA facilitates a thriving program of residencies, research, academic courses, exhibitions, symposiums, and workshops. Researchers and students from all disciplines work on individual projects or in interdisciplinary teams to explore the shifting relations and perceptions of life.

As a research centre within the School of Anatomy and Human Biology at The University of Western Australia, SymbioticA enables direct and visceral engagement with scientific techniques. Crossing the disciplines of art and the life sciences, SymbioticA encourages better understanding and articulation of cultural ideas around scientific knowledge and informed critique of the ethical and cultural issues of life manipulation.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Tania's Tales from the Lab: Part 3

I'm in the lab again today, I won't do a minute-by-minute live blog but I thought I'd write down some of my thoughts. After two months or so embedding in this lab, I feel now I have some kind of understanding of how difficult it is to ever assert that you know anything. Looking into science from the outside it seems that scientists run experiments to see if Z happens when Y is put with X, get results and hey presto, we have a new FACT. We think scientists have cutting-edge equipment on their lab benches, ultra-fast computers, powerful electron microscopes, so that they can see exactly what's what.
I mean, this is how it is on CSI, right?

Well, no.

The first thing I now have more of a grasp of is that you need to check, if not every step then every few steps and they might be many many steps in your experiment! - that you even have the right stuff in your test tubes! As one of the postdocs said to me last week, "It all looks like cloudy liquid" so how do you know what's in the cloudy liquid?

If you are interested in molecular biology, well, you run a gel... This, says Wikipedia, is:
a technique used for the separation of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), ribonucleic acid (RNA), or protein molecules using an electric field applied to a gel matrix

and this is the equipment:

Guess when this method was invented. Well, the first reports were some time in the 1930s. At least 80 years ago. And this is still, from what I understand, one of the best and most useful methods to figure out what's in your cloudy liquid. You have a wedge of gel in this bath contraption, you have a set of little wells into which you put your different samples - tiny drops of your cloudy liquid as well as control samples just to compare - and then you run an electric current which pushes the molecules of your liquid through the gel from top to bottom. Basically, the bigger molecules get stuck moving through the gel and the smaller molecules can move through a bit faster so get further. Like a race between very fat tortoises that get stuck getting down the corridor and skinnier tortoises - and all sizes in between!

After about 25 minutes or so, your gel is "done", your tortoises have moved as far as they're going to move. You take the gel out, stick it in another machine that shines UV light through the gel and you can take a photograph which looks something like this:

Clear now? Yup... I don't really know what it means either. The bands of light are molecules and some haven't moved far from the top, and some, like the guy in the bottom left corner, got pretty far...To the trained eye, this tells you everything.

Jut for fun - and a little education! - here is a 1930s concept brought into the 21st century with this cool animation about how to run a gel that I found on YouTube (with rock soundtrack):

When your gel tells you that there's stuff in your cloudy liquid that you didn't expect to be there, or something doesn't show up that's "supposed" to be there, then what do you do? Run the gel again - which involves preparing more samples etc.., can take a day or more. And if it happens again? Check all your equipment in case something snuck in. Check and re-check. And if still not...then you might need a complete rethink.

So, to sum up, to actually "see" in science isn't as simple as looking at a sample or sticking it in your fancy million-pound desktop machine. It often means using a technique developed in the 1930s and which can take days to prepare for. Anyone want to share gel stories? And talking of stories... more about the idea of "story" in science next time. Back to the lab!

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Calling all potential bloggers!

I'm in the lab again today, but won't be blogging live, that was a little stressful! I might do it once a month or so. But here's the thing: this blog is not supposed to be just me me me. Ideally, there'd be a number of Bristol Uni science folk blogging here, so if you'd like to join in, do drop me an email at tania(dot)hershman(at) (replacing the (dot) and (at) with . and @). You don't need to know anything about blogs or blogging, I'm happy to help you get started. It's great fun - I very often find out what I'm thinking about something as I'm writing a blog post on my personal blog, TaniaWrites, so it can be useful! Try it, you might just like it...