As a scientist, it is easy to think about pragmatism and how you can explain to your colleagues what you do in a presentation with a piece of data that is ultimately translated into a number. However. In the last decade, the first generations of professionals who are active in art, design, and biotechnology are emerging. I see that these people, in addition to considering the pragmatic or creating theories that are intrinsic to scientists, involve aesthetics in their work. These things have made scientific divulgation to develop the interest of the public and the dialogue; Researchers or artists who understand this concept are more creative and it is these types of people who are now democratizing science, creating global networks and inspiring others to do increasingly incredible projects in which the barrier of knowledge and the imagination is blurred.
Seeing the work of Fiammetta and her desire to divulgate through her art has been an incredible experience, I have seen the various areas it covers and how it explains for people like me that are not familiar with physics to understand phenomena that seem complex and distant to our understanding. I show her a bit of our work in SSLAB what and why we do with bacteria (Image 1, Image 2). We also talk about how synthetic biology was created from the natural step of manipulating DNA once the humans understand natural systems and how synthetic biologists work at the boundary between engineering and biology to reassemble parts of organisms to perform new functions, recreating unnatural chemical systems to reveal emerging properties of the original systems and give information to predict the behavior of the cells in which DNA was synthetically introduced. We are certainly very eager to start this journey by joining Synbio to art.
“If you can’t explain what you’re doing and why you’re doing it to any intelligent layman, that really means that you don’t understand it yourself”
I have been working in science communication since almost 10 years now, but before that, I wanted to be a researcher myself. Whilst I’ve always loved drawing and reading comics, I was not sure about the research field I should specialize in. Eventually I wrote my PhD thesis about bistable perception, that is to say the perceptual phenomenon that takes place in the brain when we see ambiguous images. Ambiguous images are a specific kind of optical illusion that you have surely witnessed, where the same image can be interpreted in two different ways, like the lady who is young and old at the same time, or the animal which is a rabbit and a duck simultaneously. Our brain cannot decide which interpretation is the “right one” - because there isn’t one - and goes back and forth interpreting the images in one way or another, changing the “interpretation” every few minutes.
Just after discussing my thesis, I decided not to pursue a career as a researcher but rather to dive deeper in my interest for drawing and comics, orienting it towards science communication, thus creating a science comics project, ERCcOMICS and founding a science illustration agency, RIVA Illustrations. But this is another story.
The first images that Juliana sent me where pictures of petri dishes representing artworks and patterns (I even discovered an annual competition of bacteria design!).
This images reminded me, in a way, of my thesis. They made me think of these biological paintings are like ambiguous images: you can interpret them simultaneously as artworks and as a demonstration of the scientific concepts behind Juliana’s work in synthetic biology; art interpretation, science interpretation - both of them are valid. What I would love to do now is to better look at the “science interpretation", to better understand the concepts and the implications of Juliana’s work, and to incorporate it in the “art interpretation” that I will try to give. The back and forth between these two is “The Bridge”!