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Science becomes art in two new research fellowships

* 1 October 2003 *

Science becomes art in two new research fellowships

How can the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain be translated into art? What does the behaviour of cuttlefish tell us about natural design and transformation?

Two leading scientists at the University of Sussex are collaborating with artists in a new national scheme to help bridge the divide between the arts and science.

Neuroscientist Professor Michael O'Shea and geneticist Dr Robert Whittle have each been awarded prestigious research fellowships by the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) and Arts Council England for projects that will lead to an artistic interpretation of their work.

Professor O'Shea and his research team are working with Norwegian artist Sol Sneltvedt, who will turn her understanding of the scientific imagery of brain activity into an audio-visual art installation.

"As scientists, we understand how the brain works in terms of microscopic processes," says Professor O'Shea. "But we don't know how that relates to what the brain can do. Sol will be using our scientific images to explore this link between the brain as a machine and the unlimited scale of human thought."

Dr Whittle is studying the genetics of animal patterning but there are four other research groups involved in the project. The topics range from the molecular biology of the assembly of nanofibres to the way cuttlefish make patterns on their body surface as camouflage or to attract mates.

Visual artist Heather Barnett, who has worked with science professionals in previous art collaborations, will take part in laboratory activities with the five research groups. She will use photography and other image-based approaches to explore the themes of design and metamorphosis.

Dr Whittle says: "The advantage for us of having Heather here is that it may give us new insights into the work that we do and may provoke us to think about other issues."

The two fellowships, which are among just sixteen awarded to universities in England, are for one year. Funding ranges from £22,000 to £35,000.

Professor Geoffrey Crossick, chief executive of AHRB, says: "Many of the most exciting areas of research lie between and across the boundaries of traditional disciplines or subjects."

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