As a researcher, to learn more about a new field or to delve deeper into possible explanations for your lab results or research question, you would probably spend a lot of time reading and searching through research publications right? The aim being to expand your knowledge and learn from what others have done before you.
But how would you do this if you have left the lab for a non-research based science career, like I have? How could I learn from others? How do I push myself out of my comfort zone in my scicomm career? How do I get inspiration from other things than just the ideas flying around in my head?
Well, one thing my team are trying is to visit different science outreach events and public engagement activities for inspiration and to learn from others. Which is also an awesome reason for day trips out of the office to visit amazing places such as the Science Gallery in London; our first scicomm day trip!
Heading to the Science Gallery has always been on my list of places to visit in London, but every time I visit the capital there is never really any room to fit it in on my itinerary. So, I was thrilled when our first team outing was here and especially that the current exhibition was called ‘Spare Parts’. So, allow me to take you on a a little mooch around with me at the Science Gallery.
What is the Science Gallery all about?
The Science Gallery in London aims to connect art with science and health to drive innovation. They bring together scientists, students, local communities and artists to express their themes in surprising and innovative ways. They present three themed seasons each year involving exhibits, events, performances, live experiments and open discussions all with scientific engagement at their core.
What is the Spare Parts exhibition all about?
An exhibition all about rethinking human repair and the art and science of organ transplantation and tissue regeneration. Visitors will explore the art, science, ethics and technology that enables our ability to repair the body and consider the emotional and psychological aspects of living with a replacement organ or limb; organic or engineered.
Working alongside researcher from King’s College London, the Spare Parts exhibition asks visitors to question whether ‘spare parts’ can exist outside the body, or whether bodies can be a sum of independent parts that are regenerated, enhanced, donated or altered.
The ‘SPARE PARTS’ Exhibition
This was my first trip to a science art gallery so I was excited to explore and push myself outside of my comfort zone. But I was glad that it was on a theme that I was familiar with to begin with. Here are some of my favourite exhibits:
The first is this ‘Monument of Immortality’. At the centre was a bioreactor showcasing small scaffolds in the shape of various different body parts. This piece was more of a philosophical piece about eternal life and whether we could actually reach immortality with bioengineering and regenerative medicine, and then how that applies to our consciousness.
Next was one of my favourite parts of the exhibition. The bees! We are all aware of the effects on plant life that would happen without the bees. But have you ever considered the impact bees could have on human life?
This is the Hivecubator 2.0 and showcases the potential that organisms can have to power medical equipment such as cell incubators that would be needed for the cutting edge regenerative medicine research and applications we are aiming for.
The idea behind this ‘bee-powered’ incubator harnesses the energy of the beehive to care for living cells by generating carbon dioxide and heating the incubator to to a stable temperature. Survival of the cells within the incubator is determined by the health of the bee colony.
One thing I did love in the Science Gallery London was that amongst the exhibits was a great breakout and maker space called The Gut; a space for live research projects and sharing skills, opinions and disciplines.
While there were a few different workshops in The Gut I was fascinated by the ‘Hand-Sewn Electrode Hack’ and the ‘Synthetic Anatomy Residency’ aka 3-D printing of some body parts and using stainless steel conductive thread and embroidery techniques to craft electrodes which can detect muscular activity and enable individuals who wear prosthetics to control the moving parts of their artificial limb.
These parts of The Gut gave me a real sense fo excitement about the possibilities for the future. 3D printing scaffolds for new organs was something I already knew about. These were only using plastic but the possibilities now where you can print with cells are incredible. But the possibilities with the thread is amazing and represents a cheap and effective alternative to producing electrodes.
Plus this area was just workshop goals for me. Minus the pink! But I would love a maker space like this.
Back to the exhibits and one that brought back a lot of nostalgia for me. This tabletop showed a video of how to detach cells from a culture flask and then seeding them into a 6 well plate. Something that I have done thousands of times during my PhD. But these wells contained traditional textiles such as cotton and silk to explore how techniques such as embroidery and lace-making could be applied to the field of tissue engineering and body repair.
The differently sized threads attempt to control the growth of the cells. An idea that wasn’t completely surprising to me as I have explored research before where cells behave differently depending on the size and shape of the hole in the scaffold they were trying to grow on.
But this was one of the exhibits I was most inspired by for my own science communication activities. Stay tuned for that soon 😛
The final exhibition that I really enjoyed was this one about Big Heart Data, especially as within my job I have been writing about using AI for predicting heart failure.
It is technological advances like these that are allowing us to make more personalised treatments tailored to each patient and even each organ. These 3D printed hearts were created from personalised system that can help doctors to plan surgery.
How did I find the exhibition?
As a first experience of a science art exhibition, I really enjoyed it. It was great to see how researchers had collaborated with artists to bring their research goals into an artistic communication. Some of the other exhibits that I haven’t shared with you didn’t have quite the same clear messaging that I got from the ones I have shared. So, not all the interpretations appealed to me, but that is probably a good thing as different things would appeal to different visitors.
But it was also great to immerse myself into what other research was being done in this area, and exploring the endless possibilities, and to once again open my mind to different ideas within research but also science communication and engagement.
I do feel that as you walked around it could have been made a bit clearer what each of the exhibits was representing. I did have to go back to the Science Gallery website to truly understand the goals of each part, even if some were still not my cup of tea.
And I’m not sure it gave a sense to visitors about how close we are to these realities, but it did give a sense of opportunity. As I walked around a didn’t feel the connection between each part, but just that these parts fit under the same umbrella. I would have liked to have been taken on a journey through the exhibit building upon the last part. But the way it was set out did allow you to explore whatever part in whichever order you like and didn’t rely on understanding the last part before moving onto the next.
I did really enjoy our first team outing in the name of scicomm and public engagement research. I gave me a lot of food for thought and new ideas which is exactly what we wanted to achieve. Now I can’t wait for the next season to see how it compares.
If you’re in London before 12th May 2019, I would highly recommend paying the Spare Parts exhibition a visit. And if you do I would love to know your thoughts.
What is your take on generating ‘spare parts’ for our bodies or regenerating them? What questions do you have about it?
Have you visited the Spare Parts exhibition in London? Or any other exhibition there? Maybe you have visited one of the other Science Galleries around the world? How was your experience?
Any recommendations for science outreach and communication place we should visit as a scicomm day trip in London?
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