Synthetic Aesthetics

i-5c50863c75fd36b9577995d81c61bbc8-synaes-thumb-510x200-52925.pngI am thrilled to announce that I will be one of the Synthetic Aesthetics residents this fall. Synthetic Aesthetics is a new program run through Stanford and the University of Edinburgh and funded by the National Science Foundation and the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council that asks the question "how would you design nature?":

Synthetic Biology is a new approach to engineering biology, generally defined as the application of engineering principles to the complexity of biology. Biology has become a new material for engineering. From biological circuits made from DNA to entire systems, synthetic biology is interested in making biology something that can be designed.

Traditional engineering disciplines have tackled design by working alongside designers and developing longstanding collaborations. Synthetic Aesthetics is a research project jointly run by the University of Edinburgh and Stanford University that aims to bring together synthetic biologists, social scientists, designers, artists, and other creative practitioners, to explore collaborations between synthetic biology and the creative professions. Interaction between these two broad fields has the potential to lead to new forms of engineering, new schools of art and design, a greater social scientific understanding of science and engineering, and new approaches to societal engagement with synthetic biology.

The complex intersections between science, engineering, technology, art, design, and social sciences highlighted by synthetic biology have fascinated me for a long time, and I am very excited to be able to explore these issues while working with Sissel Tolaas, an odor artist whose work focuses on how we communicate and interact with our environment through scent. I will of course be writing here and elsewhere about our project and that of the other residents, as we all try to figure out how we would design nature together.

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Design and nature have a highly fraught intersection. You get biblical literalists straining to see perfect design in the violently dispassionate hodge-podge of nature, dreadlocked architects trying to make cities of the future look like Endor (good luck, homes), paleo-artists drafting pink and purple tyrannosaurs with zero consideration to the aesthetics of the living nature around them, those bad-ass german robotics guys making floaty air-penguins, Victorian-era diatom arrangements, and....

So on. It's war, I say! Have fun, but more importantly, fight to win.

By CS Shelton (not verified) on 12 Jul 2010 #permalink

That sounds great! I was tempted to apply myself, but I think they wanted people wit actual labs rather than just floating currently-jobless lab students for applications :) It sounded like a really awesome project though, so should be fun.

Congratulations, Christina. Sounds like a wonderful opportunity and a fascinating collaboration! We visit your blog from time to time and love your perspective. If you are interested in using film/television to express your team's findings, please get in touch... you can check out our team at

congrates christina...

By dhrub sarma (not verified) on 27 Sep 2010 #permalink