Public Engagement Blog Updates
Blog #01: SMQB IncUoBator Artist-in-Residence
In February, the SMBQ kicked off our first artist-in-residence programme, bringing together four artists with four new research projects. These research projects are part of the SMQB’s seed-corn scheme, which sees researchers from across different disciplines paired with an SMQB Fellow and supported to collaborate for six months to testbed new research ideas and ways of working. The hope is that at the end of this period, research groups will be better placed to apply for external funding or investment as they will already have some pilot data/proof-of-concept evidence in their back pockets.
One of the most unique aspects of this scheme is our research ‘incubator’ – a two-day retreat (this year held in Bristol) that brings teams together for in-depth planning and development at the very onset of the project. This provides teams with dedicated space and time – both physically and mentally – to focus on their projects, with minimal distractions from other commitments. Importantly, key leads in professional support also take part to help catalyse decisions into action there and then, avoiding the need for teams to waste time organizing individual meetings to do this later on.
Particularly thrilling was that for the very first time we included artists as part of this incubator retreat, embedding them at the very beginning of the collaboration process. The enthusiasm and excitement in having the artists join us was palpable, both from the researchers and professional staff, as well as from members of the public involved in our advisory group who seemed especially interested in how these scientist-artist collaborations would reach new audiences through creative public engagement outputs. The two days were quite full-on and intense for all involved, as plans started to get locked into place, but there was also plenty of time to get to know each other more informally over lunch and dinner, which made the experience an enjoyable one.
Each of our artists is profiled on our webpage where you can find out more about them and see examples of their previous work. We are only part-way through the collaboration now, and in light of everything happening globally due to COVID-19, there are a few hurdles to overcome, but we thought that we’d take this moment to check-in and see how teams are getting on. I’ve also retitled the Artist-in-Residence programme ‘SMQB IncUoBator’ playing on our research incubator and the creative artist connections being made with University of Birmingham (UoB) research. Each of the artists has sent through a little update below. It’s been great to see such a diversity of artistic mediums and interpretations explored, even just at this early stage. We’ll aim to write a few more blog posts every 4-6 weeks as part of documenting SMQB’s IncUoBator, so do check back again! Until then, I hope that you are doing well and taking good care of yourself in these unprecedented times.
With very best wishes,
Caroline Gillett, Community & Public Engagement Manager
SMQB IncUoBator: Artist-in Residence Programme Lead
I am working with the research team investigating beta cell heterogeneity. This project combines state-of-the-art Ca2+ imaging, molecular biology, chemogenetics, gene editing protocols and mathematical modelling. I am re-using cellular information, beta-cell imaging and data visualization – translating this content into new forms. At the research incubator in Bristol, I was interested to learn that oscillations play an important role in cellular processes. The team have created code which converts signals such as islet voltage traces in to sound waves and I look forward to incorporating this in to my work.
The scholar Johanna Drucker notes how a bias often exists toward assuming knowledge represented in mathematical form is an unambiguous representation of thought. Scientific data is often perceived as ‘objective’, I am fascinated by the alternative histories that might be created from this information. The nature of my work is typically abstract, as such I am thinking about the relationship between abstraction and found beauty in science. Working with the, charts, schematics, plots and the scientific models I want to defamiliarize these aesthetics and re-contextualize them for a new audience. During a tour of the labs at The University of Birmingham I had the pleasure of learning more about the live imaging techniques used in this process. I include a picture from my time at the lab and a frame of my work progress…
Fig_1. Frame from – science fictions – work in progress | Fig_2. Photograph taken from my lab research trip.
Pappileodema is caused by intracranial pressure which creates optic disc swelling and can be a symptom of other health problems like brain tumors or brain conditions. The research I am responding to is with the POP study group who are creating an algorithm for an OCT machine to be able to diagnose Pappilleodema in your local opticians, rather than being sent to A&E to go through unnecessary and traumatic procedures. My collaborators are Opthamologist Dr Susan Mollen and Mathematicians Leandro Junges and Wesel Woldman who are working with machine learning (AI) to develop algorithms to transform the diagnosis process of Pappileodema.
The reason I applied for this project is because I was already researching similar areas of science and technology. My research has been focused on a rare brain condition, Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH) which cause and cure are unknown. My interest in this condition comes from first hand experience and having a traumatic diagnosis, as well as experiencing symptoms like pulsatile tinnitus, chronic back pain, severe migraines and double vision. I came into this event excited to learn more about my collaborators and work together on ideas of how to visualise the research.
The work I am creating involves data, imaging science, sculpture and technology with an overall goal to make science accessible to a wide audience and to start discussions and raise an awareness and understanding of invisible illnesses like IIH.
Before the project began I started to establish a connection with IIH UK Charity who have helped thousands of people in the UK with information about managing IIH. With the charity I am planning to run focus groups and phone consultations to enable others to share their experiences and use their data to formulate a collective representation of what Pappileodema looks like.
My current artistic practice is understanding the human body by life casting and sculpting skeletal structures and digital MRI imaging. This stage of the residency is about experimentation and I am currently developing my understanding of algorithms with Leandro which could lead me down a different route and I am working with materials like plaster, silicone, latex, 3D printing. I look forward to sharing what happens next.
I’m developing a multi-channel sound piece that mimics the interaction model between hormones and inflammatory mediators during cardiac surgery. Together with the researchers I designed an approximated version of this model, which highlights the feedback cycles and the dynamic interactions of each part (Image 1). The resulting composition will be made up of five voices with each voice allocated a distinct output, the sound sources will be arrayed following
the diagram below (Image 2). At the centre of this diagram we find the hormones ACTH and Cortisol, which make up the harmonic centre of the piece. The outer triangle is made up of the inflammatory mediators TNF-α and IL6 and an Inflammation voice. During each composition cycle the outer triangle will move the inflammation harmony from a point of dissonance towards consonance with the harmonic centre. This composition will be generated in real time using Cycling74’ Max.
I recently finalised the programming of the model which now self sustains, but it’s only outputting numerical values (Image 3). Currently I’m designing the sounds using Modalys. Modalys is a physical modelling synthesis program by IRCAM, which can be controlled using Max. By using a digital physical modelling synth I am able to easily manipulate in real time complex sounds which are not easy to produce with standard sound synthesis methods such as additive, subtractive or frequency modulation, or by manipulating samples.
As an artist with lived experience of extreme thyrotoxicosis I’m acutely aware of the effect it has on a person’s physical and mental health, and the far reaching repercussions on the rest of one’s life. I have a hundred stories, from embarrassing to hilarious to tragic, which I now understand as being closely related to my condition. Being part of this project has only increased that understanding, and given me a genuine opportunity to contribute to research that could quite literally be life changing. In making this work I’m using both my own experiences and exploring a variety of other aspects of the thyroid, with my initial focus being on it’s shape.
Named for it’s resemblance to an ancient Greek shield, I’ve been exploring this particular shape in relation to my own experiences. Firstly with an embroidery designed to echo the curves of the shield and the nodules of the gland, next with a recreation of the sweet pink tablets I took to manage the condition and thirdly using gold leaf suspended in resin to explore both the classical shield shape alongside the more realistic, visceral appearance. These experiments relate back to my own experiences, such as the visual metaphor of smooth neat stitchwork with a mass of tangled threads behind and the pills recreated from the sugary fondant crème which was a staple of my diet while my metabolism was racing.
My next phase is to establish links with other patients with this condition to share experiences, and to create works around visual indicators of hyperthyroidism (such as goitres and bulging eyes) together with historical references and remedies. I’m also exploring the idea of the treatment of this condition as being a combination of chance and chess including moves, countermoves and fortuity.