Artists & scientist meet to explore disease dynamics

One of our Research Associates, Dr Paddy Brock, is involved in an exciting and innovative public engagement project called Silent Signal – an arts/science collaboration that brings together six artists and six scientists to creatively explore research into genetics, immunology and epidemiology. Following a development phase the project has recently won full funding from a prestigious Large Arts Award from the Wellcome Trust.

We asked Paddy to tell us a little more about the project and how he came to be involved:

I first heard about the opportunity through Twitter, shortly after starting to use the network. In my first meeting with the organisers in London, the scientists and artists were matched up through a ‘speed-dating’ process; I got on well with a Southampton-based visual arts collaborative called boredomresearch, and I’ve been working with them over the past six months during the project R&D phase.

As digital artists, boredomresearch (based at the NCCA, Bournemouth University) use similar tools to mathematical biologists – software, code, visualisations – but they use them for different purposes. It has been fascinating to explore our very different motivations for building simulation models that are mechanistically very similar.

boredomresearch, BFX 2014

Our collaboration, called Afterglow, is using real-time animation to explore the complexities of infectious disease transmission dynamics, as simulated by mathematical models. These will be explored as a virtual illuminated landscape, rendered in a game engine.

‌The outputs of the project (animations, exhibitions and online resources) aim to engage young people and non-specialists with research in an innovative and creative way, and to develop new ways in which scientists can widen and diversify the impact of their research.

As the project matures, I hope we can extract and share lessons on how we establish and develop interdisciplinary dialogue. Bridging the relatively big gap between artists and scientists may help us create new and productive ways for ecologists to collaborate with social scientists, for example, or clinicians, or economists.

Now that the project has received full funding through a Large Arts Award from the Wellcome Trust, I’m looking forward developing my collaboration with boredomresearch in more depth.

Read more about Afterglow, including interviews with the collaborators.

Further information

The University of Glasgow has two scientists involved in the Silent Signal project; joining Dr Brock is Dr Megan MacLeod, a Research Fellow in the Institute of Infection, Immunity & Inflammation, who is working on a separate collaboration (The Garden of Synthetic Delights) within the Silent Signal project.

Silent Signal is produced by Animate Projects with support from a Wellcome Trust Large Arts Award.

First published: 22 September 2014