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Dr Joan Farrer, Director of Design Research Initiatives (Dr-i) and Reader in Design and Materials describes recent developments at the University of Brighton that are bringing together academic researchers and students studying traditionally separate disciplines to create a range of exciting approaches and solutions to environmental and human healthcare problems.

Dr Joan Farrer, Director of Design Research Initiatives and Reader in Design and Materials

“All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom”

Albert Einstein, Out of my Later Years, 1967.

How to bridge the gap between arts and science is a conundrum that has been debated for hundreds of years. Traditionally, science and the arts have been viewed as two separate and distinct disciplines with their own particular models, methods and practices. Only a few people throughout history have tried to assimilate them, Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Einstein. However, this divide is increasingly being seen as unproductive and a gap which needs to be bridged in order to create fresh research.

The natural environment, can be viewed and represented aesthetically. The beauty of a tree, its shape, colour and movement can all be recorded and represented in this way.  However the same tree can also be viewed purely as an object for scientific study; its rate of growth, its molecular structure, its classification within its genus can all be recorded and investigated. Art and science may seem unrelated yet are, nevertheless, inextricably linked through this one tree.

This link is the basis for work on the BRIDGE project based at the University of Brighton. BRIDGE – or Building Research and Innovation Deals for the Green Economy is a collaborative initiative which builds on the findings of researchers and designers within the field of eco-materials.  It serves as an incubator for ‘green entrepreneurs’ – innovators with a commitment to environmental considerations who work across educational and commercial platforms to research and develop sustainable materials and products.

“The hard’ scientist meets the ‘soft’ creative hand of the artist is producing research which is new, inventive and highly productive.”

The BRIDGE has opened doors to new possibilities for collaborative science and arts research and the cross-disciplinary connections are increasingly creating new and exciting projects and outputs. Scientific research outputs traditionally start with an hypothesis, which is tested methodologically, and then proven, whilst arts research typically begins with the method, or practice, which then creates an artefact or a research question. Taking an holistic and cross-disciplinary approach means that participants are free to use a whole range of research methodologies. This approach holds enormous potential for projects with gains to be made in both the arts and sciences. For example, what are the pros and cons of a quantitative study versus a narrative study, and why is there a separation? Can these two methodologies be combined to produce more successful results? These are the kind of issues collaborative work is questioning, aiming to resolve them based firmly on a trans-disciplinary foundation.

BRIDGE’s activities are focussed around the very active university-based BRIDGE Club, which draws together students and staff from all disciplines on a weekly basis to share ideas and plans for the creation of new materials and artefacts. In this way, research projects are born, with the objective of sharing and transferring fresh ideas and knowledge across disciplines.

As the BRIDGE project has grown, so have the number of partners involved. Within the University of Brighton, the BRIDGE project collaborates with colleagues in The School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences (PABS) as well as The School of Environment and Technology (SET). BRIDGE has reached out across the English Channel and now collaborates with French business and industry providing a foundation to research and a sharing of ideas that uses collective knowledge to achieve maximum results. The backbone of BRIDGE is the green economy, which is growing and flourishing based on its own sustainable research community. This film, made by our French research partners, describes the ethos behind the project:

Students and teachers alike have benefitted from BRIDGE, through practical making and testing activities, science and art have found a new way of working, thinking and creating together. A new classroom has been born for the twenty-first century, and a new research curriculum has been formed that replaces traditional whiteboard teaching methods with active, shared learning and cross-communicative workshops.

Feedback from student exchanges between French and UK students have proved positive with students from both art and science backgrounds feeling inspired to learn more, think more and create more with one another.

The range of projects continues to grow and includes:

FLAX – Increasing its Value for Society

This project is developing a flax fabric for clinical application which has the potential to fight infection, along with an ‘intelligent’ wound-dressing made from flax seed mucilage.  It employs cross-disciplinary and inter-institutional expertise, often combining the research and development skills of several academic schools and institutions, including The Faculty of Arts and The School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences.

Biocare Marine

Lead by Dr Iain Allan in The School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, Biocare Marine is a collaboration with Belgian and French partners to isolate, characterise and sustainably utilise marine bio-molecules which have applications for human healthcare. This research will be showcased at an evening event held to be at Brighton’s Sea Life Centre on 27 February. The project brings together the knowledge and expertise on the structure, design and functionality of materials from within the Design Research Initiative (DR-i) and combines it with the expertise of the Biomaterials research group which uses therapeutic and diagnostic technologies to optimise the effectiveness of its outputs.

BRIDGE Circus

A crucial part of all this work is to describe and explain ideas to non-experts, especially in the form of public outreach. Innovative communication methods have been used by the science and art faculties to collaborate on large-scale public events to showcase scientific and design research, including public exhibitions, interdisciplinary conferences and film and web-based outputs which help explain the projects to the wider world. The ‘Visualising Data’ project featured films, and animations created by Graphic Design BA(Hons) students with the aim of communicating complex ideas gained through their experience of science laboratory field work.

Most recently, the Circus BRIDGE exhibition The True Value of Materials, was held at the Faculty of Arts Grand Parade campus in December 2013, and has inspired further research and more national interest in working across disciplines. This week projects will be showcased at Materials Research Exchange in Coventry with a conference and symposium to be held at Rouen, France in April.

One of the key outcomes of interdisciplinary engagement between the art and science, is the development of new understandings and a growth of knowledge for researchers and  students who are liberated from the traditional confines of their disciplines.

Find out more about these projects.

ARTICLE SOURCE: UNIVERSITY OF BRIGHTON: FACULTY OF ARTS: Bridging the gap between the Arts and Science

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