The Art of Science at Heriot-Watt



A fluorescent coral revealing its hidden colours by being illuminated with filtered blue light.

Heriot-Watt is to host two Artist in Residencies in 2016, thanks to funding totalling £30,000 from the Leverhulme Trust.

Graphs and numbers are ideal for the scientists themselves but far placed from everyday experience.
Professor Daniele Faccio

 Australian artist Dr Lily Hibberd will be hosted by the Extreme Light group, which develops experiments in laser physics and quantum optics inspired by general relativity and the physics of curved space times. Professor Daniele Faccio, group leader, said that one of the foremost challenges of contemporary physics is the need to communicate research concepts beyond the community of experts, and that he believes Dr Hibberd is well placed to support that effort.

 “The idea of bringing an artist into a science group is to broaden the impact of our work but also to investigate other approaches to expressing scientific 'truth'. Graphs and numbers are ideal for the scientists themselves but far placed from everyday experience. The hope is that we will find a more effective communication channel through artistic expression.

The Leverhulme Trust “At the same time, it is my personal experience that working with an artist pushes the boundaries of what we are doing in the lab a little bit further. The artists attempt to make our work beautiful often leads to questions that we would not otherwise have asked ourselves. These questions may or may not lead to new discoveries but can certainly lead to a deeper understanding of what we are doing.”

 The second residency, involving Scottish artist Hannah Imlach, will respond to the amazing but little-known story of how marine organisms are revolutionising modern medicine, as well as recent inventions in microscopy which make it possible to see objects inside living cells which open the secret light emitted by marine organisms such as corals or jellyfish, light which is invisible to the naked eye.

Bringing hidden worlds to a wider audience

 Group leader Professor Rory Duncan explained that their proposal involved Hannah working with live corals to understand how they live, threats they face in their natural environment and their hidden colours. “The enormous societal benefit of new biology reinforces the importance of remarkable marine creatures to the world. Corals, in addition to the fundamental support of human society (one in six people on the planet rely on reefs for direct provision of food, and indirectly through tourism and recreation benefits), now enable medical advances, impacting an even wider audience.

 “Our work will tell the tale of inter-disciplinarity, colour and scale, to bring this beautiful, hidden world into the gaze of a wide audience in non-scientific settings.”

 Both Residencies will last for ten months and will include working with the wider research community from undergraduate to Professor.