"Communicating the Anxieties and Awesomeness of Bioengineering - A Workshop for Scientists and Poets”
Norwich does not just host a world-leading scientific research park, but is also England’s first UNESCO City of Literature. Despite this being the case there is often little interaction between the scientists and artists who live in the same city. We worked with Jenni Rant of the Science and Writing Trust (SAW), based at the John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park, to organise an event that would communicate science in a novel way to a new group of people. Whilst our team have shared our work with scientific experts, we have had fewer opportunities to talk to artists. This was a fantastic opportunity to gauge the perceptions of our work by people who have not studied science to a detailed level.
Prior to the workshop the poet Esther Morgan visited our labs to gain some background and context. The workshop took place on August 21st, at the historic "Dragon Hall", that hosts the Norwich Writers Centre.
We began by presenting our project, focussing on our goals of creating nutritional products that protect against colon cancer, and answering many questions about carbohydrates, cloning, enzymes and genetic engineering.
Esther Morgan then guided the assembled poets (and the team!) to turn our science into art. We began by reading existing examples of science-inspired poetry and then progressed with writing exercises in which the poets picked up on the double-meanings and metaphors of words relating to our project such as ‘transformation’. Esther paired scientists with poets to further discuss the scientific words that we found most meaningful and we explored them in both a literal and metaphorical capacity. There being a great buzz in the air as we discussed how images, for example of agarose gel electrophoresis, could take on a new meaning in the hands of an artist. In the final exercise we each chose one key word and worked further on it to build the foundations of a poem.
Before we knew it, the evening had drawn to a close. Several of the participants shared their first drafts (the poets did a far better job than us scientists!). Over the following weeks we worked on our poems. The collection is shown in the gallery below, and it is still growing.