A Day in Data – SPREAD’s Life Stripe Exhibition

If you were to look at your day in 24 blocks of one hour, what do you think the biggest block of time would be spent doing?

Right now I’m in the thick of some of the worst jet lag I’ve ever had, so I’d hazard a guess at 50% of the time being asleep (usually in the middle of the day), a further 20% of the time spent in bed wishing I was asleep, and the rest doing, y’know, life (read: in search of food).

This idea of visualising a day in terms of blocks of activity has been used by a design collective called SPREAD. SPREAD, established in 2004, is made up of two Japanese designers, Haruna Yamada and Hirokazu Kobayashi. Their ‘Life Stripe’ project aims to “find patterns in our everyday existence by using bands of color“.

Haruna Yamada and Hirokazu Kobayashi

I saw the Life Stripe exhibit at the Red Dot Design Museum in Singapore; a relatively small museum that includes a beautiful design shop and cafe on the ground floor, with the exhibits on the floor above. I hadn’t planned to go to Red Dot at all, I’d spent the day at Singapore’s ArtScience museum (more on that in a later blog post), and had some time to kill in the Marina Bay area. After wandering around the bay and having what turned out to be the best salad I’ve ever eaten (from now on I’m putting watermelon and pistachios in every salad, ever), I caught sight of the Red Dot sign. I figured I’d go in and have a wander around, thinking that if it wasn’t great then at least I’d be out of the heat and in the comfort of decent air-conditioning for at least an hour. Turns out, it was one of my favourite places in Singapore; the Life Stripe exhibit being a main reason.

When you head up the stairs to get to the upper floor of Red Dot, the first thing you see is this:

SPREAD’s Life Stripe Key

A rectangular block striped with colours, that you then figure out correspond to the key below. Along with a few other museum visitors, I couldn’t walk away from this first image before deciphering what the coloured box was telling us – spoiler alert; this 24 hours is filled with a lot of work/study, some sleep, intermittent housework/chores, two mealtimes, and a spot of shopping.

In SPREAD’s words: “Life Stripe lets you see your daily, weekly or monthly routines in an exciting way, and helps you discover something about yourself. A Life Stripe work is a “pattern of life” made by replacing one’s everyday actions such as sleeping, dining, relaxing, and working, with 21 colors selected based on research, and recording them along a 24-hour axis.”

The striking thing about Life Stripe came later; a wall filled with 88 of these rectangles, each showing a different colour pattern. On closer inspection these blocks reflected the activity of different people, with different jobs and lifestyles.

Photograph of the Life Stripe exhibit, taken by Heidi on Sunday 10th February at the Red Dot Design Museum, Singapore

SPREAD collected over 150,000 life records of both well-known and ordinary people of various careers, circumstances, genders, age, as well as animals, and made Life Stripe works based on them. They continue to collect data to this day, and the work on show is just a small collection.

In the squares above you might be able to make out that a Graphic Designer has a pretty rigid routine, spending most of their time working, some emails and then sleep, whereas (perhaps unsurprisingly) a Pet Sitter has a more varied day with short time slots spent doing different things. As well as the job titles, the brief description underneath each of the coloured rectangles also gives age, gender and location.

They’re not all human either – this one for a cat got a lot of laughs as people uncoded the sleep-meal-hang out routine; though there was some discussion about whether this could have been a teenager or not..

 

I got thinking about this exhibit and how useful it would be to communicate what the day to day life of a specific career might look like to someone who isn’t familiar with it. I’d bet that if different types of Scientists made their own coloured blocks no two would be the same!

 

Good Things: January 2019

My last post was a bit of a downer, so today’s blog post is intentionally designed to combat that. It’s all about good things, and I think I’m going to make this a monthly thing. If you enjoy it, let me know – give it a like, leave a comment, or perhaps think about ending your months by focussing on the good things.

As I’ve been exploring creative science communication techniques over the last few months I’ve been consuming a lot of online ‘content’ – YouTube videos, blog posts, Instagram and Twitter posts etc etc. A big focus of the Fellowship that I’m currently on involves exploring how science bloggers and micro-bloggers can learn from people doing creative things in other fields, and it’s becoming more and more obvious to me that science bloggers focus on science. That sounds dumb, but hear me out. People that blog about science tend to focus purely on science; often they’re not opening up and talking about their other hobbies and things they want to achieve in their personal lives for example. Clearly that’s a sweeping generalisation, but I think it holds at least some truth. In contrast, other fields of bloggers – usually ‘lifestyle’, ‘beauty’ or ‘fashion’ bloggers tend to open up a bit more, and that in turn makes it easier for people to engage with the content they produce. Ultimately these bloggers become sort of virtual friends to their viewers, and I think that’s a really nice way to improve engagement. I think we should be doing more of that it the sciences. Lots of these ‘other’ (clunky word, but basically I mean non-science bloggers) end each month with content that involves reflections on the best products they’ve used, books they’ve read or experiences they’ve had, so I’m bringing that to my blog for 2019.

So, enough waffle! I’m going to split things into 5 broad categories for now, mainly as a reminder that every single good thing about a month should not be related to food.

Good things about January 2019:

Excellent humans
Heidi with Dawn Bazely

This is the biggest category because I’ve been travelling and having so many incredible conversations with so many incredible people. I’ve chosen to highlight the 3 people that have made me think, inspired me to do better, and made me laugh, in that order:

  • Dawn Bazely – a powerhouse of a woman. I met Dawn in Toronto to talk all things science communication and engagement, not only did she spend time recounting her experiences with me, she boosted my confidence, made me laugh and invited me into her home. We need more people like this in the world.
  • Kyle Marian Viterbo – another incredible woman. Kyle is working hard to change the landscape of science communication; to make it inclusive, diverse and valued. After speaking to her I was simultaneously angry at the state of things now, and hopeful that there are people like her (and now me!) making a conscious effort to improve things.
  • Krishana Sankar – I’ve been following Krish on social media for aaaaages and we finally got to meet when I was in Toronto earlier this month. It felt like catching up with an old friend; lots of shared experiences and laughter, and I’m so glad that she’s part of the science communication community I’ve met online.
Cool places
Street art at Blagden Alley
  • Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe, Washington DC – wonderful book shop that opens late and has a restaurant that serves incredible desserts. If I ever go missing, look here first.
  • Blagden Alley, Washington DC – two blocks of incredible street art with loads of good brunch places nearby.
  • ARTECHOUSE, Washington DC – a brilliant immersive art/science/technology experience.
  • STATE Studio, Berlin – teeny art/science studio that explores big science questions using art.
Book(s) of the month
Online media
One specific moment
  • Seeing my friend Lacy in New York after 5 years of communicating via very sporadic Skype sessions. We had a huuuuge catch up which was well overdue, when I was ill she brought me noodles and medicine, and she didn’t get too embarrassed when I shouted ‘I looooove youuuuuu’ down the hallway as she was leaving.
Work thing
  • Being invited to present work from my PhD at a conference later this year – this sounds like something really small, but being invited to talk anywhere still feels massive for me.

Writing all of that down makes it clear just how hectic and wonderful January was. Not every month will be so jam-packed (at least I hope not!), but I think it’s important to take some time to reflect and celebrate the good things, however big or small.

What have you loved about January? Leave a comment below and let me know 🙂

 

Artist-Scientists That You Should Know About

Last week I posted about science and art, and how, in my opinion, creativity is something that is inherent to the success of both of these fields. Today I’m posting a few examples of scientists that are also artists – going some way to demonstrate my points from that blog post whilst showcasing some of the wonderful artist-scientists that I know of.

Christine Liu / Two Photon Art
EtsyInstagramTwitterWebsite

Credit: Two Photon

Christine is a PhD candidate in Neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, where she researches the relationship between nicotine and the brain’s dopamine system. In her spare time she is one half of science/art mega-force, Two Photon Art. Two Photon have been going for a few years now, making zines, enamel pin badges, fabric patches and more. Christine’s passion and drive for equity, diversity and inclusion in the sciences, and in STEM more widely, is nothing short of inspirational. Her art reflects her passion – many of Two Photon’s products contribute a percentage of profits to initiatives such as Girls Who Code, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and West Oakland Punks with Lunch.

Jen Ma
InstagramTwitterWebsite

Credit: Jen Ma

Jen is currently completing her PhD in Dr. Peter Zandstra’s Stem Cell Bioengineering Lab at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on developing a novel platform for rapid enumeration of rare blood stem cells based on their unique genetic markers. I’ve followed Jen’s work on Instagram for months, particularly through the STEAMotype lettering challenge that she founded to infuse the worlds of calligraphy and hand-lettering with science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, and I was lucky enough to meet her when I was in Toronto recently. We had a brilliant conversation about how art can help scientists to reach members of the public that are less likely to seek out science in their every day lives, and I’m super excited to see where her career goes over the coming years.

Lauren Hewitt
InstagramTwitterWebsite

Credit: Lauren Hewitt

I found Lauren through a post on Christine Liu’s Twitter; The Two Photon team took their products to the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting earlier this year, and Lauren made a guest appearance alongside them. Lauren is completing her PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, where she’s working in Dr Darrin Brager and Dr Dan Johnston’s lab to investigate the physiological properties of inhibitory interneurons in the stratum oriens of the hippocampus. Her Instagram bio claims she’s a ‘novice embroiderer’ but her designs look pretty professional to me!

Lily Clarke / Lily in Space Designs
EtsyInstagramTwitter

Credit: Lily Clarke

I found Lily through a Facebook group for small business owners that I’m part of, then saw her pop up on the In Colourful Company Instagram page and knew I had to find out more about her work. Lily is a Physicist, Illustrator, and lover of woodland creatures – and her artwork is too adorable for words. I’d love to work on a collaboration between Lily in Space Designs and Science On A Postcard this year, and we have discussed it before, so hopefully we can make it happen in 2019 🙂

Nina Chhita / Nina Draws Scientists
InstagramTwitter

Credit: Nina Chhita

You might recognise Nina’s work from Science On A Postcard products that I’ve mentioned on this blog previously – Nina was the first artist that we collaborated with! She illustrated 3 wonderful women in science (Mae Jemison, Rita Levi-Montalcini, and Gertrude Ellon) to go alongside quotes that we picked out to produce a set of 5 ‘Women in Science’ postcards. By day Nina is a Medical Writer, but she’s consistently working to raise the profile of women in science through illustrations that she showcases on her Instagram and Twitter pages. I’m looking forward to find out about more inspirational women as Nina continues to draw!

Rachel Blair / Rachel Blair Ink
InstagramShopTwitterWebsite

Credit: Rachel Blair

Rachel is another wonderful scientist and artist that I’ve met recently – I’ve been a fan of her work for years so I had a bit of a fan girl moment meeting her whilst I was in New York last week! Anyway, Rachel is a freelancer working largely as a Medical Writer as well as growing the Rachel Blair Ink brand along side that. Her background is in Biology and Epidemiology, and lots of her work has been around infectious disease and vaccinations, which makes her perspective as both a scientist, illustrator and patient, super interesting. She’s passionate about fostering science literacy in the public, and encouraging women to pursue careers in science and technology.

Know of other scientists that are also working on creative projects in their spare time (or maybe that’s you!)? Leave a comment below and share links to their work so that I can continue spending my money with wonderful independent creatives.


I couldn’t write this blog post without mentioning another artist. Oliver Dean is not scientist, he’s an illustrator of science – so I’ve included him as an honorable mention.
Oliver is a freelance illustrator and designer based in the UK, he works with STEM researchers and educators (and others, but his STEM-related work is incredible) to “enhance the position of those I work with so that they may engage and inspire more people, break down barriers and challenge thinking through new ways of communication.”

Oliver Dean
Big CartelInstagramTwitterWebsite

Credit: Oliver Dean

Science and Art – a Natural Partnership or Two Very Different Fields?

In my last post I explained the main aims that I have for the Fellowship that I am currently on; if you missed that, then in basic terms I want to explore how science and art can come together to improve the way that members of the public engage with science.

Since that post I’ve had lots of conversations with wonderful scientists, researchers, science communicators, and members of the public (Canadians are probably the friendliest people in the world, but Canadians in coffee shops are a whole new level of friendly), about the relationship between science and art, so I wanted to try to capture some of those thoughts in a blog post. Mainly I’m writing this as a way to keep track of my own thoughts around this topic, but I’m also interested in hearing your thoughts to – leave a comment below or send me a Tweet if you’d like to join the conversation!

My initial thoughts about the potential relationship between the fields of science and art started a really long time ago. In my early teenage years I wanted to be a graphic designer, I had dreams of setting up my own business, just like my Dad had, and spending my days steeped in creativity. After a couple of years that no longer sounded like a viable career for me; I did a GCSE in Art & Design and got a grade A, but even the process of doing a GSCE in the subject felt like too much pressure for me. I loved being creative, but being creative under pressure (in this case exam conditions) was not something I enjoyed at all – the pressure made me feel claustrophobic and my usually creative brain was suddenly unable to think as usual.
That realisation was a tricky one; I clearly wasn’t cut out to be a working designer where the pressure was not exam conditions, but bill paying and you know, life. I thought about other careers including law, medicine and surgery, my grades were decent and the options presented to me by careers advisors at school were a reflection of that. None of those really interested me and it took me a few months of trawling through university prospectuses to find the course I wanted to do – Pharmacology (the science of how drugs act on the body). I still wasn’t sure where I’d go career-wise, but I figured getting a science degree would give me some options, and I liked the sound of the topics that would be covered in the Pharmacology degree program at the University of Aberdeen.

During the years of my undergraduate degree I didn’t do much art, I made jewellery sometimes but I didn’t feel like I was being creative very often at all. Now when I look back, I was being creative all of the time; but I’d been taught throughout years of education that creativity meant activities like drawing and painting. I was writing all of the time, I read daily, and I was solving problems in almost every aspect of my degree – all tasks that require creative input. I was being creative, just not ‘traditionally’ so.

It’s not just me that has thought this way. Towards the end of last year I took part in the ‘I’m A Scientist‘ online event with school children across the UK. Lots of them were asking questions about careers, what our favourite subjects were at school and whether that linked in with what we were doing now. My favourite subject was Art & Design, and it took those kids asking questions of me to realise that I use creative skills every single day in my job. To me, science is inherently creative, I just hadn’t realised it because my teachers always presented science and art as opposing fields; you were good at one or the other, not both.

I guess this sort of thought process came from the myth of the left brain/right brain.

Image credit: Maggie Wince ‘Left Brain / Right Brain’

From a blog post written by Robert H Shmerling MD from Harvard Health Publishing:

“Those who are right-brained are supposed to be intuitive and creative free thinkers. They are “qualitative,” big-picture thinkers who experience the world in terms that are descriptive or subjective. For example, “The skies are gray and menacing; I wonder if it’s going to rain?”
Meanwhile, left-brained people tend to be more quantitative and analytical. They pay attention to details and are ruled by logic. Their view of the weather is more likely, “The forecast said there was only a 30% chance of rain but those cumulonimbus clouds will probably bring thunder as well as rain.””

I’m not going to go into the depths of scientific research that discount this thought process, instead I want this blog post to be a way for scientists to be reminded that they are creative people, and for younger readers to understand that it’s absolutely fine (and actually very helpful) to think creatively in the world of science.

Note: If you are interested in learning about the science behind this left brain/right brain idea, I saw that Samantha Yammine (you may know her as Science Sam) plans to cover this on her Instagram over the coming weeks. Follow her here and keep an eye an her Instagram stories and feed.

The reason why I’m passionate about exploring how art can be used to engage the public with science is because of these experiences; I never thought I would be a scientist because I thought that I was a ‘creative’ person; someone expressive and emotional (ask my boyfriend, I can be pretty dramatic if I’m hungry/too cold/too hot). I am expressive and emotional, and I’m a scientist too; I think that those qualities make me a better scientist. Lots of the conversations that I have had over the past week have included scientists echoing that sentiment. Infusing science with creativity means that conversations about science, and scientific issues, are encouraged within and between groups of society outside those that they may reach with traditional forms of science communication. It’s no use trying to have a conversation about a scientific issue that could impact on everyone, if there are huge sections of society not being invited into that conversation. I believe that creativity is one way to ensure we’re at least inviting every part of society to that discussion.

What do you think; if you’re a scientist, would you describe yourself as creative? If you’re not a scientist, then what do you think of this idea of sparking conversations about science with creative practices?


More information on the idea of science and art working together can be found by clicking the links below:

Artists and Scientists: More Alike Than Different
Why Art and Science are More Closely Related Than You Think
Art for Science – Science Communication Through Art
Why Researchers Should Use Art to Talk Science
Scientists are More Creative Than You Might Imagine
Exploding the Myth of the Scientific vs Artistic Mind

An Update on What’s in Store for the Next Few Months

I’ve done that thing again where I have a tonne of ideas and things to post, and then life gets in the way and time disappears leaving me with a never ending to do list and a blog that hasn’t been updated in too long. That never ending to do list is currently almost entirely on hold because I have left the UK, and will be returning only to switch out the contents of my suitcase, before returning at the very end of February. For the first time in a very long time, I’ve put everything on hold in favour of one project – my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship.

I’m currently on holiday in Quebec City with my boyfriend. We’ve only been in Quebec for 1 day, but it’s been a pretty wonderful start to the trip. It’s freezing cold; -18°C levels of freezing cold, so today we’ve spent the day wrapped up warm and wandering around the city. We dawdled down towards the river that we can see from our hotel (incredible view from our room below!), and somehow ended up hurtling down a traditional toboggan run that’s one of the oldest attractions in the city. I did a lot of screaming and laughed so much that by the time we reached the bottom my face ached, my teeth were the coldest they’ve ever been, and I had tears streaming down my face. Today I also had a slice of the best pecan pie I’ve ever tasted – unsurprisingly, Canada suits me very well so far.

Tomorrow we are heading out to Montmorency Falls – a waterfall one and a half times higher than Niagra falls, and just a short drive outside of the city. Montmorency Falls freezes in the winter and it’s apparently a must-see if you’re in Quebec at this time of year. I’m super excited to see the views and take some time to see more of the area than we can on foot.

We’re staying in Quebec for new year’s eve, and then we’re heading to Toronto for a few days after new year. After that, Cameron is heading back home to Aberdeen and I’ll be in full Fellowship mode. Currently my itinerary looks something like this:

  • 5th-12th January: Toronto
  • 12th-18th January: New York
  • 18th-22nd January: New Hampshire
  • 22nd-30th January: Washington DC
  • 1st-3rd February: Berlin
  • 7th-16th February: Singapore
  • 16th-25th February: Hong Kong

So, what can you expect to see on this blog as I attempt to remember what city I’m in over the coming weeks and months?
Hopefully you’ll be pleased to know that I’ll be taking you along for the ride! My Fellowship project is all about science blogging, and using creative techniques to improve the way that blogs can engage the public with science, so it seems like a good idea to keep bit of a diary of my travels in blog form. I’ll also be doing a few more creative blog posts to try my hand at the new techniques and methods that I’ll be learning about from the experts that I’m meeting up with throughout.

On the subject of experts – if you are a science communicator, scientist that communicates their science to public audiences, someone using science as inspiration for creative projects, and you will be in any of those cities when I am scheduled to be, please let me know!
I’ve reached out to a number of people that I want to meet up with, but have purposefully kept my schedule relatively free so that I can make connections as I go. Leave a comment on this post, or tweet me (@heidirgardner), and let’s talk creative science communication.