Science in spotlight at the V&A

University researchers have led a project pairing science and design, which is showcased at a leading museum in London.

A new popular book, Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology’s Designs on Nature, will form the focus of an evening event at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The collaborative work explores the emerging field of synthetic biology, which crosses the boundary between science, engineering and design.

Designer DNA

We are excited to present some of the work from our collaboration, which we hope will interest and inspire discussion.

Professor Alistair ElfickSchool of Engineering

Synthetic biologists seek to manipulate the DNA in biological materials to create new sustainable products or applications, for example in healthcare, bioenergy, and food security.

Design is central to this discipline, as researchers aim to re-task existing organisms or construct novel biological machines.

Six collaborations were created for the book, pairing artists and designers with synthetic biologists.

Human cheese

Their exploration includes biological computers that calculate form; speculative packaging that builds its own contents; algae that feeds on circuit boards; and a sampling of human cheeses.

The museum event will draw upon workshops, installations, film and discussion to explore the potential of synthetic biology.

Taking part are social scientists Jane Calvert and Pablo Schyfter, and bioengineer Alistair Elfick, all of the SynthSys Centre at the University of Edinburgh.

They are joined by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, a London-based artist, designer, and writer, and Drew Endy, a bioengineer at Stanford University and President of the BioBricks Foundation.

Evening event

Synthetic Aesthetics will be launched as part of the MasterCard Friday Late series at the V&A.

The book is published by the MIT Press, and the initiative was jointly funded by the US’s National Science Foundation and the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

These exhibits show the potential that synthetic biology has for developing truly innovative products and materials, but also begin to ask questions about how we may wish to deploy this technology.

Prof Alistair ElfickSchool of Engineering