Synthetic Biology; Where Organic Meets Digital, Edinburgh International Festival – 29th August 2013

Synthetic Biology; Where Organic Meets Digital (SBWOMD) was a two-hour performance where Alan Murray (designer and artist), Prof Alistair Elfick (Chair in Synthetic Biological Engineering at the University of Edinburgh) and Dr Adam Stokes (lecturer in Micro and Nano Systems at the University of Edinburgh) describe what Synthetic Biology is and how we might meld the linear and highly granular process of scientific inquiry with the iterative and highly generative process of design and art.
The SBWOMD performance was developed through a week-long workshop (Organic Tinkering) that took place in April 2013 where Murray, Elfick and Stokes were joined by Prof Tait (Social Scientist at the University of Edinburgh), Prof Speed (Chair in Design Informatics) and Prof Rabinowicz (Associate Professor of Product Design at Parsons, New York). The workshop developed a hands-on and tactile approach to how different disciplines might start to develop effective collaborative research and artefacts.
Stokes (Engineer and inventor) explored how the ‘World of Hard Things’ could be aligned with the ‘World of Soft Things’ into new altered Biological Systems. Through examples of his own soft robots, Stokes suggested that processes in Synthetic Biology could develop future ‘Soft Systems’. After describing the fundaments of Synthetic Biology, Elfick described his part in developing a ‘cheap arsenic bio-sensor’ and the ‘Synthetic Aesthetics’ project. Murray described how designers with little Science and Engineering background had been designing for an imagined Synthetic Biology and how his own work in ‘designing behaviours’ looked to ‘domestication’ and ‘living learning environments’ as everyday objects become increasingly intelligent.
Additionally the SBWOMD performance asked the audience to participate in a ‘Dance of the central dogma of Biology’ using a choreographer, dancers, sombreros and RFID equipped biological models to understand how Synthetic Biologists intervene in the two stages of amino-acid production.

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