Many hands make light work: a skill swap shop between physics researchers and artists

Posted in: Doing Public Engagement, Engage Grants

Kerrianne is a research associate in the Department of Physics. She was awarded £420 to host a collaborative workshop between the arts and sciences.

A popular misconception is that art and science are incompatible. The imagined skills needed for scientific research, and consequently the idea of a scientist, are not diverse. Often a good scientist is imagined to be a mathematical genius, with encyclopaedic knowledge, and skills that might aid in creating beautiful artistic images, sculptures or installations are perceived as irrelevant.

However, professionals in both these fields know that there is a lot of science in doing art, and lot of art in doing science. From my own experiences of making optical fibres for my PhD in the Centre for Photonics and Photonic Materials at Bath, good experimental science is heavily reliant on careful craftsmanship and creativity to build experiments. The results of the researchers work, such as fibre fabrication or alignment of a laser experiment, are visually interesting outcomes born from good handiwork. Equally, there is a lot of thorough science and research that goes into the methods, techniques and equipment to make amazing art work. I wanted to run a ‘skill swap shop’ to give craftspeople in both fields an opportunity to discuss and share their work.

On Thursday 23rd May, eight artists visited the Department of Physics at the University in order to see our resources, equipment and experiments. This involved laboratory tours, experimental demonstrations and discussion sessions. Twelve physicists attended the workshop to share the skills they use to achieve their research outputs. For example, during the lab tours we showed how we fabricate optical fibres. Physicists that attended got to meet artists with fascinating backgrounds and know-how. Researcher Stephanos Yerolatsitis said: “There were many more similarities between our fields than you could imagine. In the future, I am hoping to try some of the techniques the artists shared with us.”

On the day, we got to see and experience some printing techniques from Damien Leech at the University of the West of England, a method of developing pinhole photographs with coffee and salt water from Katie Harrington, art pieces that used optical fibre from Stephen Spicer, and some quick doodles summarizing the event from Rae Goddard.

The event ran from 10 am to 4.30 pm, and was full of buzz and chatter! Obviously there would be no Physics/Art swap shop without some amazing artists and physicists, so I’m really grateful for everyone who attended. This was an invigorating day, to discover new work, meet new people, and share crafts! I hope to facilitate some preliminary attempts of the collaborative ideas that were thrown around, such as laser cut fluorescent photographs, optical fibres in sculpture and some 3D printed glass casting. I look forward to hearing about what everyone gets up in the future.

Posted in: Doing Public Engagement, Engage Grants


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