Research in many colours
2 October 2012
The finished art on the Queens Building
If you happen to be wandering around the back of the Queens Building, amidst the red brick and external pipe-work you may come across a bright splash of colour.
This piece of street art is part of the culmination of the Systems Industrial Doctorate Centre (IDC) Arts Challenge that took place in early 2012.
It has really opened my eyes to how I can engage with the public.
For research engineers at the Systems IDC, public engagement forms part of their training and development of transferable skills.
Many of them get involved with schools and take part in a variety of engagement activities at University.
But Sarah Tauwhare, the Systems IDC coordinator, decided to take a creative approach to public engagement training.
In collaboration with a local science communicator, she arranged for the research engineers to take part in workshops with three local artists – an animator, a photographer and a spray painter.
The first workshop was a relaxed evening event that provided an introduction to the artists, the way they work and what inspired them.
At the second event the research engineers had the chance to try their hand at all three types of medium.
Then, at the final workshop, the engineers divided into groups based on their chosen medium and got to work creating pieces based on the research or the concept of systems engineering.
The pieces of art have subsequently been used by the Systems IDC in their public engagement activities such as their exhibit at Discover.
They have also reached more unusual audiences – some have featured in academic conferences and one now adorns the offices of the research engineer’s industrial partner.
The research engineers have also worked with other doctoral students and the artist on further collaborations, including a street art theme public engagement activity at See No Evil Bristol.
Designing and creating animations
Unlike some art/science projects, this was not about the interpretation of scientific concepts by an artist.
Instead it was about researchers expressing their work through a chosen medium.
As such, the finished art work was less important than the development process.
“It was a good lesson in how people work in teams in a creative environment” says Joe Clarke.
It was also about enhancing the range of public engagement skills, as Natasha Watson describes: “It has really opened my eyes to how I can engage with the public”.
It’s what the Systems Centre stands for: creative approaches to engineering challenges, thinking differently, approaching research through different 'channels' to enable resolutions to wicked problems.
However, Katharina Burger thinks the Arts Challenge has also captured the essence of their research: “It’s what the Systems Centre stands for: creative approaches to engineering challenges, thinking differently, approaching research through different 'channels' to enable resolutions to wicked problems”.
Spray painting has long been used in Bristol as a way for artists to make a statement – now researchers have begun to find out about this means of expression.
But there might not be enough walls in the University to describe the breadth of research that is carried out here.
The Public Engagement Officer
for further information.