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IMPACT: science and art co-exhibit

Thursday 18th March 2010
Imaging & modelling impact Courtesy: http://www.ig.utexas.edu/research/projects/chix_2005/

In a groundbreaking new partnership, leading UK science researchers (which includes three from Glasgow University and one from Heriot-Watt) have been collaborating with designers from the Royal College of Art to visualise the potential impact of scientific developments and examine how these might affect how we live in future Britain. The results can be seen in an exhibition offering an insight into how today’s research might transform our experience of the world.

IMPACT! exhibition is the first collaboration of its kind between the UK’s main funding agency for science and engineering - Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) and the Royal College of Art (RCA). Sixteen original design installations will explore how we might interact with new technologies drawn from the latest research, and offer scenarios of how science might influence our future.

Great science teamed with innovative industrial design has delivered some of the world’s most important technologies," writes Professor David Delpy (right) EPSRC chief executrive. "It is this combination that elevates the purely functional or aesthetic to the status of iconic. Our attachment to the Mini, the iPod or any one of Brunel’s bridges istestament to this.

"Each creates opportunities for the other. Design has made technologies portable, ergonomic and acceptable. Scientists and engineers have created new materials and new manufacturing techniques that open up exciting design possibilities.

But conceptual design and science also share similarities and each can
enhance and inspire the other. That is what this exhibition seeks to celebrate."

Professor Lord Robert Winston, (left) who launched the exhibition, said: “Through the eyes of design, this project offers a fresh and creative insight into how the ideas that scientists and engineers are working on today might transform our quality of life and tackle the challenges we face in the 21st century in areas like engineering healthcare, transport, digital communications and the creative industries. 
 
"It also offers a reminder that many of the conveniences and comforts of daily life have their origin in UK scientific endeavour, and a fascinating exploration into possible relationships between science and society in the future.”
 
Professor Anthony Dunne (right)Head of Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art, said: “Normally as designers we’re trained to look at applications from science to see how we might solve problems or come up with a new market opportunity.

"What we are trying to do with this project is to move sideways and look at the influence that science might have on people and how science might lead us to new social, cultural or economic pathways.

Though the design projects in this exhibition offer an alternative view of how science could influence our future, there are no solutions here, or even answers; just questions, ideas and possibilities. They probe our beliefs and values; they challenge our assumptions; and they help us see that the way things are now is just one possibility.”
 
There are 16 EPSRC-funded research projects in the exhibition.

Happy Life
What if technology identified the likelihood of guilt from the smallest  facial expression change or the slightest in body temperature alterations?  This research project is probing technical and operational viability of just such an approach. Investigating the potential to detect physiological processes that could indicate guilty intentions, it plans to develop new anti-smuggling techniques for trial at real-life border controls. What would it mean to introduce such technology into the family home : when an electronic device can know more about your partner’s state than you do? Or can predict an incoming bout of misery
through statistical analysis of accumulated data. (Right) Reyer Zwiggleaar, with the Happylife project from James Auger, which uses thermal imaging to analyse emotional states.

Fabulous fabbers
(Among researchers Prof Marc Desmulliez, Heriot-Watt University). Research has developed new manufacturing techniques that build up or  'print' a range of radical, three-dimensional miniaturised ‘smart’ products. They include a multi-functional health-monitoring sensor for use on aircraft and a ground breaking integrated biological processor. (Left: courtesy EPSRC)

Factories move away from the fringes and come to town! Micro-scale engineering advances point to a global-scale revolution where local, disposable factories produce high-tech goods on our very doorstep. What form might this new way of ‘making things’ take within our urban landscape ? From garage-workshops to circus-like structures, from street vendor stalls and vagabond encampment, the new factories could bring back ownership of the tools of production

Does it smell like Fair Trade
If the surface of a product could react to show  its composition, how would it tell its story ? What is it made of, where has it been ?

Inspired by the way the natural world communicates, this design project (right) envisions an alternative to labels and packaging.

A living skin, that could translating consumer information into patterns, smells or textures. In the same way a fruit tells us about its nature, could products themselves inform us of their ethical credentials in an immediate and physical way ?

Nuclear dialogues
Another in the hybrid energy portfolio, a new generation of scientists, a new breed of experts with the skills to turn 21st century visions of nuclear energy into areality. Safe, reliable, climate-friendly energy.
(left) that can help propel U K into a future of optimism and confidence. From nuclear materials science to radioactive waste management, harnessing the potential of nuclear fission technology will demand specialist expertise of world-leading calibre.

The Nuclear FiRST (Fission Research, Science & Technology) Doctoral Training Centre is determined to reverse UK’s nuclear scientist shortage. Its radical approach, embracing cross-disciplinary training with the historical and political context of nuclear research, is to develop a family of talent that will play a pivotal role in a re-energised nuclear industry.

Quantum Vision
Research on unimaginably powerful ‘Quantum’ computers may make modern supercomputers obsolete.

Building them will require quantum machanics understanding of the most fundamental properties and to also explore the possibility of the parallel universes that they imply.

This project imagines a fictional ‘5th dimensional Camera’ with glimpses (left & right courtesy EPSRC) of the parallel universes suggested in quantum physics.

Astronomical Bodies

Developing a convincing theory on the origins of life remains one of science’s greatest goals. Such a theory will have to be creative and multidimensional, as well as scientifically plausible and comprehensively testable.

(Left courtesy EPSRC)

This research investiges the key role phosphorus may have played as a building block of life, the team exploring the intriguing possibility that the type of phosphorus needed to kick-start life, here and perhaps on other worlds, arrived in a meteorite. If we think of ourselves as astro-biological products of galactic composition, should we  colonise space with life? What if we collect phosphate from our urine and kidney stones, and create meteorites? These could be sent into space to seed life on other habitable planets, initiating a process of self-assembly and evolution.

Policing Genes
The Security Science Doctoral Research Training Centre (SECReT) aims to develop the security specialists of tomorrow and equip them with an unprecedented understanding of crime science. Its approach is rooted in a passionate commitment to innovative, transformative thinking and crime-fighting methods that don’t come with an unacceptable social or ethical price tag. (Right courtesy recruiting on Facebook)

Plants genetically engineered to produce vaccines are currently undergoing field trials. This technology promises to allow pharmaceutical companies to economically harvest useful drugs. ‘Policing Genes’ speculates that, like other emerging technologies, it will find a use outside the law, with narcotics and controlled pharmaceuticals
grown in innocent looking garden plants. It proposes a police response that uses the natural behaviours of bees to monitor the genetic make-up of pollen in an area. (Above) pollen police.

Energy Animal
by harnessing bulge waves that form inside the device – waves similar to those produced in mammals’ arteries by pressure pulses from the heart. Sustainable Energy Animal. Researchers are developing a 150m rubber snake designed to generate low-cost electricity from the sea.It does this. (Right:Courtesy: EPSRC)

This project imagines combining wave, wind and sun energy in a single hybrid composite energy converter. However, this machine is not only a renewable source of energy. It also monitors the environment and aquaculture while providing safety at sea by communicating to similar connected devices. The network forms a large bioarchitectural superorganism, an entirely new class of inhabitable ocean architecture.

Unknown unknowns
(Researchers include Prof Denis Smith and Dr Moira Fischbacher, University of Glasgow) This project examines the challenges confronting security and emergency services at UK entry points.

By developing a detailed understanding  of the vulnerabilities, the aim is to identify the best way of minimising them.‘Unknown Unknowns’ is a multimedia research library for an imaginary film.

The film revolves around the worst-case scenario of (above) a mid-air collision over the (right) Wembley Stadium on FA Cup Final day.

The library consists of texts for auditions, location analysis and stunt coordination, as well as computer simulations of flights, supporting photographic studies and objects.

The library provides a platform to probe key themes and techniques that characterise the complex nature of crisis management and risk analysis.

If we never meet again

The research team behind this work are tackling the many challenges involved in creating and controlling such autonomous, unmanned vehicles and helicopters (UAVs). From AI to wireless networking and data fusion, their expertise is being applied across a whole array of intricate and demanding technical disciplines.

If We Never Meet Again’ (Above: Courtesy EPSRC) is a film shot from two perspectives - a man’s and a machine’s. Focusing on the encounter of two men on a deserted road, the dual imagery invites multiple readings of a single scene.

The work considers how media produced by machines might alter an audience’s perception of the cinematic. What might a ‘cinematography of devices’ produce when the subject is fictional ?

Not yet heard
Technology has never matched the incredible capabilities of human hearing: the ability to recognise sounds, to pick one out from a jumble of noise, to interpret tone and other characteristics. Yet the benefits could be far reaching, from better hearing aids to improved security at airports. (left)

This research project aims to enable computers not just to hear sounds
but also to analyse them, form judgements and then take appropriate
action. And a technique called ‘sparse representations’, could unlock the
potential.  In the project a  person programes a device to recognise a certain constellation of events by its sonic properties. The device is installed at a particular place, listening and waiting for the situation to occur, which would result in a photograph being produced. How will machine Listening influence the way we form our personal realities ?

Shocking
Tiny particles of tungsten disulphide whose amazing shock-absorbing properties are impressing the science community, could be key to providing soldiers and police with bullet-proof vests an personal armour that offer better protection than ever before.

Despite the rigorous scientific testing and stringent safety precautions, how much faith would you put in this technology ? Where do  boundaries between thrill, fear and science lie ? Our device offers individuals the chance to test these limits for themselves, capitalising on new and fantastic materials’ qualities.
(Above right & left courtesy EPSRC)

Synthetic Immune System
The Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation is at the vanguard of
this leap forward. From innovative biosensors for disease detection to reengineeredbacteria for drug manufacture, it is accelerating synthetic
biology’s industrialisation and its capacity to deliver remarkable solutions
for our rapidly changing world.

It might even allow us to externalise our immune system by outsourcing metabolic processes to external micro-organisms. These microrganisms, for instance yeasts, sense and diagnose anomalies in our body to produce and deliver chemicals accordingly. Such a Synthetic Immune System would be tailored to one’s genetic predisposition, age, lifestyle and anxieties.

Phantom recorder
When a limb is lost, the mind often develops a phantom sensation. The phantom owner is suddenly endowed with a unique and personal appendage, invisible to others and sometimes capable of extraordinary hyperabilities. As strategies for repair focus on practical solutions, they tend to overlook poetic functions of the body, but what if one could record and keep one’s phantom sensation, to be awoken on request? (Phantom Recorder right Courtesy EPSRC)

The Phantom Recorder system projects a cold and damp sensation onto the skin surface, triggering the brain to hallucinate a phantom. As the phantom movement stimulates the peripheral nerves, its activity is  captured by the neural implant and external wireless machinery.  When a prosthetic has been fitted, digital data of recorded phantom sensation can be transmitted to the implant, allowing the nerves to recreate the sensation of a telescopic phantom hand, a fourth foot or a split arm.

Cellularity
(Among researchers Prof Lee Cronin, University of Glasgow. Designer James King) Cellularity icon (left

This research is developing ‘chells’ – artificial, chemical cells that mimic properties of biological cells – and could push our understanding of these fundamental questions further forward. Could ‘chells’ respond to biological signals as natural cells do? Could they even imitate some of the signals used by natural cells ?
Are we ready for industries and products based on organisms and cells?

To deal with questions such as these we need a new understanding of how living and non-living things differ from one another. The Cellularity Scale is intended to be a first draft of a definition of life that is applicable in a future where we no longer ask whether something is dead or alive, but how alive it is?

The Pathogen Hunter
Bacterial infections remain a major cause of illness and mortality. This research aims to plug a very real gap in our defences by developing a radical combination of man-made device and biological system to detect tell-tale proteins on bacteria surface. Fast, accurate, inexpensive – this solution really could tick all the boxes

Pathogen Hunters – would be trained to use very particular tools to manage infectious outbreaks. But no matter how clean we are or how healthy we feel, we still carry billions of microbes on our bodies. Will we change our behaviour to prevent the spread of pathogens to others? And the consequences be for our social conventions ? (Pictures above Courtesy EPSRC)

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