14 November 2012

Soup spots

In the course of some research for *an unspecified thing* I'm writing, I revisited Stanley Miller's original prebiotic soup paper. You know, the classic, origin of life experiment where he mixes up a bunch of chemicals in a flask and gets amino acids? I've talked about it here before. Anyway, I really liked the undergraduate-writing-a-lab-report quality of the images. Here's figure 2. Hand-labelled soup spots... awww.

Image: Science (1953)

9 November 2012

Osborne / Hume / Science / Art

“The same age which produces great philosophers and politicians, renowned generals and poets, usually abounds with skilful weavers and ship-carpenters. We cannot reasonably expect that a piece of woollen cloth will be wrought to perfection in a nation which is ignorant of astronomy.”
Thoughtful, this morning, after reading that Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne quoted the 18th century philosopher David Hume in his speech to the Royal Society. The above quote is from the essay Of Refinement in the Arts, which focuses primarily on the fine balance between luxury and morality in an industrious nation, but also considers the relationship between science and the arts.
"The spirit of the age affects all the arts; and the minds of men, being once roused from their lethargy, and put into a fermentation, turn themselves on all sides, and carry improvements into every art and science."
I enjoy the idea that cloth-making is in some way related to the study of the stars. But I also like to remind myself - and possibly Hume felt this way too - that it works both ways between science and the arts. Not only is a more knowledgeable, more technologically advanced world one in which we are more likely to produce great art, a world where great art is produced is also one in which opening our minds to thinking creatively allows us to make great leaps in science.

8 November 2012

Conversation about conservation

Whilst putting together an article about art conservation for Chemistry World, I spoke to Paul Whitmore, Director of the Art Conservation Research Center at Carnegie Mellon. We got to talking about his work on some Mark Rothko paintings - if you remember, Rothko was in the news recently because of this. Some of it got a bit off-topic (the article was really a careers piece) but I was so interested in the story behind the paintings that I decided to post a few minutes of our chat here, with permission from the magazine.

I did the interview before the Rothko vandalism news broke, without any intention of publishing the audio, so that explains both my ignorance about Rothko and the slightly dodgy sound quality. The faded paintings Paul talks about are murals that were created for the Holyoke Center at Harvard University in the 1960s. The Harvard Art Museums wanted put them on display after a period in storage so it was Paul's job to work out why they had faded so badly in the first place and whether exhibiting them again would extinguish what little colour was left.


Paul also talks about how modern artists use all kinds of odd materials to create their artworks, and the problems this causes for the conservators who are trying to look after them.

Perhaps I should also mention that I've known James White, who is featured in the same article, for many years. We're both self-employed so we've often talked about what life is like as a freelancer. But it was great to find out more about his conservation work and see his pictures in print.

7 July 2012

Cropaggedon

A wet summer is rubbish for humans, but worse for vegetables. We found this rather depressing note in our veg box yesterday. :(


30 May 2012

Why mosquitoes love me and why I hate them

I was telling this story to some family members the other day and it turned out to be a bit funnier than it seemed when it was actually happening to me. It involves a little bit of science. You might want to get a cup of tea before you sit down to read it, because once I got going it was quite hard to stop...
 
Anyone who has been on holiday with me in recent years will have had to endure my nightly rituals. These begin around 5pm, after which time, room mates are not permitted to leave the apartment - or so much as open a door - until said rituals have been completed. I begin by dousing my entire body in something called ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate; this part can be lengthy, since I often forget whether I've attended to my right foot or my left elbow and then have to start over again just to be on the safe side. The chemicals dealt with, I carefully dress, being sure to cover every square inch of bare skin - including ankles, neck, chin, ears and forehead. If I can pull off a look that exposes only the parts of my face essential for breathing, that's ideal. Before reaching the door, I'll probably go back two or three times to top up on ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate, pop the rest of the bottle in my handbag and perhaps add a pair of sunglasses - by this time it's dark, but they're for covering the skin around the eyes rather than blocking out the sun. Being able to eat and drink - and to some extent see - in all this get up is desirable but not essential.
 
Really, it's all a small price to pay to keep out the little bleeders. The mosquitoes.

Until my late teens, I don't recall crossing paths with any of these unsavoury characters. For more than a decade, family holidays had alternated between a pleasant but ultimately dull stretch of coastline belonging to Cornwall and a pleasant but ultimately dull stretch of coastline belonging to one of the Channel Islands. Neither were home to swarms of mosquitoes. So it wasn't until about a week into a month-long InterRailing trip around Europe, during the summer holidays at university, that I felt I had really become acquainted with them. I was staying in (crummy) bed and breakfasts, or camping. One morning I woke up - at 6.30am, in just my underwear, as you do in a tent in Italy in the middle of July - to find my legs covered in angry red welts. About twenty or thirty of them. As the poison those pointy-nosed bastards had apparently poured into my blood worked its way through my veins, I began to feel increasingly weak and nauseous. The bites on my legs quickly turned to scabs as I scratched them raw, and those scabs eventually turned to scars that took years to heal. My tent mate had, highly improbably, I thought at the time, escaped with a few cursory bites - as if the swarm had given him a gentle nibble just to make sure and then decided I was much tastier.

In retrospect, it doesn't seem improbable at all. I've come to realise that given the choice of me or pretty much anyone I happen to be sitting or sleeping near, mosquitoes will always, without hesitation or deviation, choose me. I don't know exactly what it is about my flesh, or blood, that attracts them. Certainly, mosquitoes are known to display preferences for some people over others. Sensible, scientific publications suggest differences in warmth, moisture, chemical odours and carbon dioxide emissions (so... breathing?) influence their tiny, evil little brains. Slightly less reliable sources suggest eating certain potent-smelling foods to try to throw them off the scent - like garlic. Since I was in Italy scoffing pizza every night when the first attack happened, I don't really buy the garlic trick. A friend once said she attracted the bugs more than her sister because she smelled like jam. I'm not sure if this was because she ate a lot of jam... but these sisters were, incidentally, identical twins, which is interesting because genetic factors could be heavily involved in determining a person's attractiveness to mozzies. Thus, had the two of them eaten the same diet for a few weeks, perhaps their attractiveness would have evened out. Although I'm not sure the jam thesis would hold up under scientific scrutiny.

I digress. None of this quite explains how my mosquito aversion has reached the level of obsession that it has. The turning point was not the InterRailing trip. It was during a "relaxing" holiday with The Girls in Pisa in 2007. The month was October, which, according to the locals, was just the kind of time in the season the really vicious bugs would be about - the hardy ones that could survive all the way to the end of the summer and into autumn, and still come up biting. And it didn't take me long to find out just how vicious they were. On the very first night, I let my guard down. Oblivious to this new breed of October Demon Mosquito, I sat whoosily sipping wine and chatting until past midnight at the outdoor table in front of our holiday home. At some point, one of my friends leaned over and brushed a mozzie away from my face. I just smiled, thanked her and didn't think any more of it.

In the morning, I woke up and discovered, to great alarm, that I couldn't see properly - my left eye didn't seem to be working. Stumbling over to the mirror, I recoiled in horror upon finding that I had been punched in the face, with apparently ugly results. This was puzzling, since, despite the slightly slurry nature of the night that had just passed, I didn't remember at any point being punched in the face. After some tentative prodding around the puffy left eye, I was relieved to find that it did in fact still work. It had just been shut. And then I remembered the bug that my friend had swatted from my face. Damn mozzies, I fumed. Pisa mozzies must be super-mozzies. Getting as close as I could to the mirror, I found I could make out the spot where the bug had bitten me - a pinprick-sized puncture in the skin just below my eyelashes.

I moped about in sunglasses all day cursing the misfortune of looking like I'd been beaten up on my holiday. But the next morning, things got worse. When I woke up, the eye was closed again. As I turned over to get up and inspect it, I was aware of an odd sensation of movement across the top of my cheek and eyelid. What had happened was this: overnight, the eye had become extremely inflamed, presumably because my immune system had clocked it and completely freaked out. "WHAT is THAT?" it must have thought, and then sent its special forces division in to deal with it. The special forces division had obviously swum in, bringing with it a lot of fluid, because as I turned over - having slept all night on the side I'd been bitten on - this fluid began draining from one side to the other. There was so much of it that I could actually feel it moving across my face. Ee-uhw.

I was afraid to look in the mirror, but at the same time, unable to stop myself.

The eye had disappeared under the overblown bite. It was like something out of a horror movie, I swear. I was half convinced a mutant mosquito had crept under my skin and laid a clutch of eggs, which were about to hatch into giant slimy bugs and force their way out through my eye socket before eating me alive... Well, I was half convinced anyway. The other half of me reacted in the same way as it did when my appendix burst a couple of years ago. It pretended nothing was happening and that it was all going to be fine in the morning.
 
Luckily, one of my holiday buddies had some sense and marched me straight off to a chemist. So. I walked into the chemist in the centre of Pisa with my sunglasses on. The man behind the counter didn't speak very good English, so I don't think he really understood what I was saying, but he realised it was something to do with my eye and motioned for me to remove my sunglasses. Since I didn't speak any Italian, there was no way to warn him, so I tried to take them off slowly in case of frightening him. This clearly didn't work, because his reaction was that of a man who had just stepped on a rattlesnake. Or realised that the lady standing in front of him was about to hatch a brood of GIANT SLIMY MUTANT DEMON MOSQUITOES from her eye. He was most likely worried about being eaten alive because he didn't say much else and pointed fervently in the direction of the health centre.
 
This being Italy, the normal rules for getting a doctor's appointment didn't apply. The system in the health centre was difficult to decipher, but seemed to revolve around a man standing in a glass box. This part I only remember hazily... probably due to the psychological distress caused by the thought of the mother mosquito making her way to my brain... but it could have been one of the occasions in Italy where guns were on display. There always seem to be occasions in Italy where guns are on display. In any case, I got the general idea, which was to convince the man in the glass box of being genuinely ill. If satisfied, he would make you fill in a form and then sit or stand for hours in a sweaty room where it was impossible to breathe. Being foreign, I had to present some form of identification and - having left my passport in my room - tried to make him accept my student ID (I was doing a part-time master's degree). At this point, I still hadn't unveiled the mutant mosquito brood. Then I did the whole taking-off-my-glasses thing again and he didn't seem too bothered about the identification after all. By now, I was anticipating the response my eye was getting with a sort of morbid enjoyment, whilst simultaneously feeling certain that I was going to die. I briefly considered calling my parents to inform them of the fact that I was going to die, but decided it would be too expensive to call the UK on a mobile.

Right. So. I've got my form and my sunglasses are safely back in position. I'm walking down the street towards the hospital because that's where I've been told to go. The hospital in Pisa, it turns out, is a vast empty building with millions of rooms and a chronic shortage of signs. Maybe everybody in Pisa is really healthy, I thought, or maybe this was the special hospital for people whose bodies had been taken over by mutants and aliens. Or maybe everyone had already died. Whatever, there was a eerie feeling about this building and all its silent corridors. After some searching, I found a room with a couple of people in it, who turned out - suspiciously - to be just the doctors I had been looking for. Still, they seemed to understand the words "mosquito" and "eye", and weren't as perturbed as the chemist or the man in the glass box when I performed my sunglasses trick. While they examined my bloated eye, I imagined all the ways they might try to explain to me that I was going to die. Their English was limited, so I had to be prepared for them to be blunt: "Missus. Your eye..." [pointing, looking sad] "Dead."
 
Incredibly, I was allowed to leave the hospital with a prescription and BOTH of my eyes! I had of course believed that if I was to be brought back from the brink of death, it would certainly be at the expense of my left eye. But I and the eye had been mercifully saved! Hooray and other less polite exclamations! (And as a bonus, the complexities of the Italian health service as they applied to foreigners appeared to be such that the doctors decided to bypass them entirely and let me have my prescription for free).
 
To cut an even longer story to a slightly more reasonable length, I spent the next week carefully rubbing a steroid gel into the slowly deflating area around my eye, at four-hour intervals. Apparently, it wasn't possible to give me a regular cream because the skin under the eye is too sensitive. I'm still sceptical about that gel, since its effects were almost impercetible and likely the same as if I had left my immune system to its own devices. After about five or six days, the special forces division must have realised nothing was going on and vacated the area. But I spent the rest of my holiday in dark glasses or swimming goggles - carefully keeping my head above the water at all times to avoid washing off the gel. And if you look through my holiday snaps from Pisa 2007, you'll find several curious photos taken in the dark, in which I appear to have overdone the Audrey Hepburn-style head scarf with shades look. The rituals had begun.

So that's what happens if a mosquito bites you on the eye? Actually, it's what happens to me if a mosquito bites me on the eye; most people wouldn't react like I did. A couple of years later, I was in Ontario, Canada, staying in a cottage near the lakes - also, apparently, rampant breeding grounds for mosquitoes - when I got bitten on my arm. The bite swelled up to the size of a small but uncommonly itchy orange. I took a strong antihistamine pill and rubbed in lashings of calamine, which I later discovered is considered virtually redundant in modern medicine. Neither had much effect. The rest of the holiday was spent in itch avoidance.

No one really seems to know what proportion of people react like this when they get a mosquito bite. But since Canada, I've uncovered a few studies on so-called "Skeeter" syndrome in young children (including this one, which includes a photograph of a child with a surprisingly similar bite to mine, just below the right eye), and some references to an allergy test. It appears you can be allergic to mosquito saliva just like you can be allergic to pollen or a wasp sting. This means that, like in hayfever, your body overreacts to what it perceives to be an  invader, which is actually a harmless pollen grain or a drop of insect saliva. Despite the ugly results, I've only got a moderately troubling mosquito allergy. There are some people who will go into anaphylactic shock if they get bitten by a mosquito and have to carry around adrenaline injections. Until recently, I thought this only happened with bees or wasps. Not so.

After getting married last year, I worked hard at eliminating every last bug from our Sardinian honeymoon retreat - locking the door as soon as the sun went down and smashing their bodies against whitewashed walls. I did get a few bites and reacted worse than my new husband did to his, but not as badly I had in Pisa or Canada. It seems likely I've been bitten by different species of mosquito on different holidays, so maybe I just need to work out which species I'm allergic to, learn how to spot them at fifty paces, and then avoid like the plague... Or. I could try to naturally desensitise myself to mosquito saliva - this apparently happens over time, with people who have lived in Canada for longer reacting less severely to bites. My husband is half Canadian, so there's my ticket. Time to ditch the ceremonials; I just have to apply for Canadian citizenship, emigrate, and spend the entire mosquito season up at the lakes every year, getting the s*** bitten out of me. 

Sorry, mum, about my language in this post. And for some more serious science, here's an interesting study on mosquito allergies, which looks at the species of mosquito and immunology associated with severe reactions to bites. The authors mention that there are some rare reports of cross-reaction with allergens from insects in the group Hymenoptera. This means that in some people the antibodies that cause a reaction to mosquito saliva might actually be the same ones that cause a reaction to bee and wasp stings.

17 April 2012

On the wall

Archaeology is a science, right? *Cough*

Let's pretend it is and check out the 1,900-year-old Roman wall I walked along last week. Here's super-archaeologist Mr Hayley posing next to it.

Hadrian's Wall, near Bardon Mill, Northumberland
We did actually walk the whole thing - that's 84 miles, running from the west to the east coast of England - over the course of six days. (It was tough, although nothing next to what this guy's doing).

I know I could probably have done some better Googling prior to our trip, but I didn't and consequently was quite astonished by the amount of Emperor Hadrian's famous Wall that appears to be intact after almost two millennia. For the first third of our walk, the Wall appeared only sporadically, rising up as long stretches of "hump" reminiscent (to me, at least) of the giant underground worms in Tremors. At the first large chunk of naked wall we encountered, I took pictures from every angle...

Hadrian's Wall, near Banks, Cumbria
But then, on days 3 and 4, lo and behold, there was freakin' miles of it! Sometimes 15 courses high... "Course" being the new word I've learned for "layer of bricks/stones" and which I will endeavour to use as often as possible in the same sentence as "series of small walls". (This sort of thing comes up often enough when you're married to an archaeologist. Just don't mention Time Team.)

Yet more Wall
These Romans, they didn't do things by halves, you know. Not only did they build a wall across *an entire country* - to mark the boundary of their MASSIVE empire, in case anyone wasn't sure - they built it up some pretty steep hills too. It makes sense, of course. If you're building a wall to keep the barbarians out, build it somewhere they're sure as hell not going to attack you. But these hills... phew. And as far as I can tell, Emperor Hadrian only turned up to inspect a few bits. Good job I was never a Roman - I think I might have taken a few detours.

30 March 2012

Shout out for "The Story Collider"

Just discovered this awesome science story project. In magazine and podcast form.
"Our lives revolve around science. From passing high school chemistry to surviving open-heart surgery, from reading a book on mountain lions to seeing the aftermath of an oil spill, from spinning a top to looking at pictures of distant galaxies, science affects us and shapes us. At The Story Collider, we want to know people's stories about science. From our monthly live shows to our Pictures of Science project, we bring together scientists, comedians, librarians, and other disreputable types to tell true, personal stories of times when, for good or ill, science happened."
I don't know HOW I didn't know about this before. But I'm going to be consuming an awful lot of it in the next few weeks. iPod is primed and ready to Science my ears off. I've even updated my fricking iTunes. Check me out.

28 February 2012

Engineering meets the arts - part III

Recap: Part I, Part II, Part II and a half

What's the difference between an artist and an engineer? Three weeks ago, I could have given you an answer. Now, I'm not so sure.

When we began this whole process, I imagined our engineers learning a few new skills, discovering some artistic urges and perhaps, if we were lucky, producing something they'd be happy to display at the end of it. But I never imagined the outpouring of creative energies we've seen in the last few weeks. However much it might have started out as a bit of fun, it's turned into something far more meaningful, for everyone involved.

Preconceptions have been shattered; boundaries have disintegrated... I mean it all without hyperbole. But what I'm wondering is whether those boundaries really existed in the first place. There are those who do art and there are those who do science - engineering, if you like. But the idea that the two are incompatible is, quite simply, bunkum.

Today I saw engineers and artists working side by side to complete some extraordinary pieces of art. And the only person wielding a tape measure was street artist Dan Petley. Tasked by his "students" to portray Steve Jobs disguised as Isambard Kingdom Brunel - to complete the left-hand side of their wall painting - the self-confessed "control freak" neatly divided up Jobs's image on a piece of paper and scaled it up on the wall with millimetre precision. Meanwhile, on the right hand side of the wall, four engineers were mapping out their design on a flipchart before transferring it onto the bricks. Same principle really, although if anything the engineers were less precise.

This was no picnic, by the way; after an epic effort to secure a University wall as our canvas, when it came to spray painting on it, the pressure to produce something of value may have seemed a little overwhelming. At 10am this morning, stress levels were running high as it became clear that the group's original plans were too ambitious, and the design had to be modified on the fly. It looked for a while as if the morning was going to be consumed by planning and debate. But with some clear direction from Dan, there was paint on the wall by 11am and doubts began to fade. By mid-afternoon, engineers were handling paint cans like pros.

Elsewhere in the University grounds, artist Richard Andersen had formed a partnership with engineer Liam Boyd and embarked on an experiment in the art of high dynamic range (HDR) photography. This was a masterclass for Liam, but also a learning curve for Richard - a chance to try out a technique he hadn't really explored previously. When the two returned at 4pm to show off their results, there were quite literally gasps of amazement. It's difficult to explain how seven shots of the engineering department stairwell can combine to produce one stunning image, but somehow they managed it. (I'll post the final images later, or you should be able to see them at the Discover exhibition in a few days' time).


One thing I liked about this particular partnership is that it represented perfectly the mutual respect that has been born during this project. One artist, one engineer, working in equal partnership to produce something beautiful. And this wasn't beauty snapped in a single frame; it was beauty engineered from a dirty old stair well, through hard work and some pretty sophisticated technical jiggery pokery.

Anyway, it's getting late and one post is not enough to explain everything that happened today. I haven't even touched on the animation, but I'll save that till the results have been uploaded to t'internet.

I guess the point I've been trying to make is that we shouldn't be so quick to draw lines between different disciplines. We can call ourselves artists or engineers, or science communicators for that matter, and we can inhabit those roles and believe that we own them. But we don't.

21 February 2012

Engineering meets the arts: part II and a half

So here are the photos I promised from the second session of the engineering/arts project. Thanks to the most excellent Richard Andersen at Lux Images. At this stage, the idea was to learn some skills and experiment rather than to capture a specific engineering concept...

"It's a chair, no it's a process"
"Where is the Gruffalo?"

"Modern times"


13 February 2012

Engineering meets the arts - part II

Day 2 of the EngD Art Challenge. My Day 1 post is here.

Many things about today were irregular. Engineers dressing up like woodland folk and pimps. Gaffa-taping dust sheets to outdoor walls of the university. Dashing out to the art shop to ask for "medium charcoals" as if I knew what I was talking about. All of the above qualify as irregular in my book; it's safe to say, this was not your average day in the office. And thank goodness.

Entering into a project like this, you're convinced that such irregularities will land you immediately in the sights of the Powers That Be, who will, surely, rise up against you, leaving all notions of "creativity" and "fun" to be washed out in the ensuing downpour of risk assessments and consent forms. Surely nobody walks into the University of Bristol with 30 cans of spray paint, knives (okay, they were craft knives) and a couple of suitcases stuffed with - among other things - dead animal parts, and expects to get away with it? Um, well, apparently they do.
 [click image to enlarge]

Today was the first of two hands-on days of art for our Bristol University engineers. And incredibly, it all materialised pretty much exactly as we'd envisaged from the outset. Possibly the biggest triumph was spray painting on 8ft-wide mdf boards out the back of the engineering workshop. We got a few odd looks from passers-by, but importantly nobody called the police, er... or the dean, on us. The only person who did bother us was another spray painter - evidently involved in painting something more engineer-y - who was keen to ask street artist Dan Petley's advice on dealing with his blocked nozzle. "What does he normally do when he has a blocked nozzle?", I wanted to know.

You can see the results of one of the spray painting workshops above - I was amazed at what was achieveable in just over an hour, with absolutely no prior experience. In the artwork on the left, the engineer/artist was making a statement about the clash between sustainability and dirty old unsustainability in materials research. The painting on the right was a more literal depiction of the engineer/artist's work - a machine he's working on. The results of the photography and animation sessions were similarly impressive, although not immediately available (I'll try to post some of the photos and films the engineers produced later). Illustrator Jonathan Farr led an absorbing workshop. The charcoal drawing below was one in a series that was used to create a beautifully simple and effective little animation of a car windscreen.


More than anything, today was a day for people to try things they'd never tried before. And if that included pinning on a tail and wielding a battle axe, then so be it. My last picture is from Richard Andersen's photography session. He's interested in the idea of narrative and performance in photography and is hoping to get the engineers to invent and act out a scene inspired by the applications of their research. But the engineers had to learn the art of performance first, so today's session was a bit like when your teacher used to get the dressing up box out at school. Shortly after this, participants were waving big sticks at each other and shouting naughty words. All in the name of art, of course.

I'm so glad to be working with some really great people on this project. People who don't even think about saying no when you suggest taking 30 cans of spray paint, knives and assorted animal parts into their university. Being able to give people these new experiences, without all the watering down, is a joy.

On the third day, we'll find out whether we can translate all these new experiences into new, more artistic perspectives on the engineers' research. And whether we'll continue to evade the Powers That Be in attempting to secure the use of an actual university wall for the purpose of street art... created by engineers.

1 February 2012

Engineering meets the arts - part I

I suffer from insomnia. It's something I deal with by drinking bucketfuls of chamomile tea and occasionally getting up past midnight to watch mind-numbing television, to try to switch my brain off. But last night my brain went into overdrive. It was gorging itself on ideas and information following the first session in a new project I've been helping to develop.

It's a wildly cross-disciplinary project that aims to share knowledge, skills and creative inspiration across the arts and engineering by bringing together local Bristol artists and University of Bristol research engineers. I'll be blogging about it over the next month - starting today and after each of three sessions until the results of the project go on display in early March. We'll be inviting our engineers to try out spray painting, animation and photography, and, supported by the artists, produce artwork that will be displayed at the Discover exhibition in Cabot Circus.

In last night's session, we got our artists and engineers together in the same room for the first time. It was fascinating to watch what unfolded - so fascinating, evidently, that my brain deemed it necessary to replay and dissect everything that happened until 1.30 in the morning. Illustrator Jonathan Farr told a darkly strange story about pigs' trotters and infanticide inspiring his latest animation (I'm sure some of these featured in my dreams), engineers owned up to being scared (not by the pigs' trotters or the infanticide but by the prospect of doing art) and more than a few eyes popped out at photographs of naked folks.

Two things particularly interested me though. One, that the artists and engineers initially had quite different views about what "art" might mean. The engineers perceived art to be a painting or film - a finished product - whereas for the artists, art was as much about the process as about the product. It will be interesting to see whether perceptions of art change over the course of the project and if we can overcome the fixation with the product to begin really enjoying the creative process.

The second thing I've been pondering is constraints. While we think of art as being free from boundaries (and engineering, by comparison, as being confined by rules and systems), I was interested to hear what our resident street artist had to say about them. If you're trying to convey a clear message through art - perhaps a political one, if we're talking street art - you're limited by what your audience can see and understand. There's a balance between being creative and allowing people to have their own interpretations, and producing something that gets its point across. I wonder how engineers will approach this balance in creating an artistic response to their own research, and which way the artists will be steering them.

More sleepless nights ahead, I feel, as this project progresses. The clash of art and engineering is proving intriguing and exciting. Next up: taster sessions in three different artforms with Dan Petley, Richard Andersen and Jonathan Farr.

And by the way if any project participants are reading this, I encourage you to:
  • Stay open-minded.
  • See it as a sharing of ideas and perspectives (that goes both ways), rather than a transfer of skills.
  • Have fun!
Thanks to Sarah Tauwhare for the photos.