Science Festival interview with Professor Bill Earnshaw
Professor Bill Earnshaw is Wellcome Principal Research Fellow in the School of Biological Sciences’ Wellcome Centre for Cell Biology. Professor Earnshaw will be hosting an interactive science and art workshop inspired by his team’s research into the complexities of cell division.
Please give us an overview of your Science Festival event – what can participants expect?
Our workshop is a hands-on immersive experience at the interface between science and art. Participants will be introduced to the research we carry on in our lab, which focuses on cell division and chromosome structure. We will try to explain what inspires us and what drives our research activity as well as introducing why research in this area is so important and describing two of the most important experiments that have helped us to figure out how this aspect of cell division works. In addition to the science, with its implications for human health, the study of cell division in cancer cells produces beautiful, powerful images and movies that can also be considered from a purely aesthetic perspective and can therefore be the inspiration for artistic creation.
Participants in the workshop will do an experiment consisting of the preparation of chromosomes from plant root cells and visualisation of the cells under the microscope. In the final part of the workshop, attendants will be led by local artist Ms. Camila Richardson in the creation of an art piece.
What has inspired you to take part in the Edinburgh International Science Festival?
In our lab, we have been developing a varied program of public engagement with science activities for more than 10 years. In previous years, members of our team had occasionally participated in the Science Festival as volunteers for the School of Biological Sciences’ hands-on activities at the National Museum of Scotland. This year, we wanted to start a new series of art-science workshops in collaboration with the ASCUS lab – as part of the public engagement provision for our Wellcome Trust grant. We have decided to organise the first workshops within the Edinburgh International Science Festival and be part of this truly unique showcase of science in Scotland.
Why do you think the public might find your research interesting?
We will try to convey our motivations, the reasons that led us to undertake our research projects from a personal and scientific point of view. We hope that this will give us an opportunity for further dialogue with the participants. When I started out, I actually planned to be an artist whose passion was exploring abstract photography. One of the things that I will try to convey is how the creative process in science can not only be useful, it can also be beautiful and satisfying.
What do you think participants in your event might get from taking part?
There are several aspects of these workshops that may prove interesting to members of the public. We will involve participants in both the scientific and artistic creative processes and draw parallels between them. Attendants will have the opportunity to hear about top research from the scientists involved in it. We hope that a meaningful dialogue will follow from this.
In addition, the audience will have the chance to do some real experiments and participate in the creation of a piece of art, a unique experience in itself.
What do you hope to gain from taking part in this form of public engagement?
In every public engagement event we try to establish a two-way communication with attendants. From our side we aim to communicate different aspects of our research – this obviously varies depending on the type of event and the characteristics of the participants. But this is just part of it: the conversations with non-scientists are always interesting. Their feedback and their contribution to the creative processes in the case of this specific workshop are critical for us to further develop this sort of interaction, so that both we and the participants learn and grow from the time spent exploring cell division together.
Capturing The Chromosome will take place at 2pm and 6pm on Sunday 1 April in the ASCUS Lab at Summerhall