On June 5th I had the pleasure to join Prof. Claudia Pasquero, Dr. Marco Poletto, and their ecoLogicStudio research partners from the Urban Morphogenesis Lab at The Bartlett and the Synthetic Landscape Lab at Innsbruck University, Oscar Villarreal, Eirini Tsomoukou, and Korbinian Erzinger, together with Neil Leach for the Bio.Bio.Bot talk, as part of the DigitalFUTURES series. Exploring the studio's explorations at the edge of ecology, biology, architecture, and urban design, our discussions centred on their latest work, which shown as part of the Future Assembly at the Venice Biennale 2021 interrogates a new type of biological intelligence system applied to the urban realm. In this system, algae cell behaviour is the core biological engine transferring distributed intelligence across a biotechnological architecture. But, complex though the construct is, an experiment in domestic cultivation of the urban microbiome, the studio's exhibit for the Biennale expressed its key tenets in a visceral, tangible, and relatable way.
The product of over a decade's bio-digital research, Bit.Bio.Bot brings together several of the studio's computational design methods [BIT], its proprietary fabrication techniques [BOT], to enable the implementation of its microbiological cultivation protocol [BIO]. Its interconnected systems include a living cladding system composed of ten 'PhotoSynthEtica curations' which both serve to enable the micro-algae growth with the aid of a bio-gel medium, while also providing screening and shading; a vertical garden which, 3m tall and containing the proprietary domestic algae farming system, which is made of lab grade borosilicate glass and 3D printed bioplastic components in the form of 'Bio-Bombolas', facilitates intensive algae farming; and the 'Convivium', which is a space for sharing and consuming the edible fruits of the experimental biolabours. The latter is comprised 36 bespoke pieces of crystal glassware designed for the consumption of the Chlorella and Spirulina produced by the urban farming system, which are arranged across a purpose-built table. Once the Biennale is over the installation will be relocated to Tyrolean landscape, where it will become an educational algae garden focused on the issue of future food.
Watch our discussions in the YouTube recording of the talk below, and find out more about the DigitalFutures project here.
Introducing the inaugural report in the Open Foresight Series, which titled 'Innovation Against All Odds' discusses seminal shifts shaping innovation at the edge worldwide. Independent, published open-access on several platforms under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), 70-pages and over 20,000 words, the work features unique insights from renown thought leaders spanning myriad fields.
Issues discussed in the report include, among others, the nature of systemic change and how it impacts upon the innovation process; neurodiversity and diversity more generally, and innovation; transdisciplinary research and practice, and the splicing of fields; changes catalysed by the pandemic, and why some are likely here to stay, but others aren't; how artificial intelligence, big data and other technological advances are illuminating the risks and opportunities for innovators like never before; and drivers of evolution and extinction in companies at all scales. Fourteen key trends are presented spanning areas including environment, materials, design, engineering, architecture, manufacturing, retail, distribution, work-life, community, education, socialising, and life goals, together with key questions and considerations that innovation-led businesses need consider now and in the years ahead. The report also presents three scenarios [find below] that frame some of the possible risks and possible opportunities here through mid-century, together with a recommend reading list.
Individuals that kindly provided quotes and insights for the work include [in order of citation] Prof. Peter Frankopan, historian and author; Anna Simpson, Director of Flux Compass and curator of The Futures Centre; Soumaya Bhyer, Founder of Neuros; Prof. Andrew Adamatzky, University of the West of England; Dr. Kate Stone, Creative Scientist and Founder/CEO of Novalia; Dr. Robin Daniels, Managing Director of Red Pill Group; Nirav Patel, Chief Executive Officer, Framework; Paul Taylor, Innovation Coach at Bromford Lab; Mike Barry sustainable business champion and founder of MikeBarryEco; Dr. Mark Hinnells, Snr. Consultant at Ricardo Energy & Environment; Prof. Rachel Armstrong, University of Newcastle; Prof. Claudia Pasquero, UIBK/UCL and Cofounder of ecoLogicStudio; Kim Chandler McDonald, CEO of FlatWorld Integration and author; Dr. Mike Pitts, Deputy Challenge Director, Innovate UK; Oliver Health, Founder Oliver Heath Design; Valerie Bounds, Chief Strategy Officer, Aurora; Jane McMillan, fashion and textile designer and start-up coach; Nuno Silva, Chief Scientific Officer, UnifAI Technology; Marie-Claire Daly, Cofounder StreamGM; Anna Brettle, Founder/Business Development Director, Stellar; Prof. Andy Miah, University of Salford; Sam Bompas, Cofounder, Bompas & Parr; Anj Prof. Teyhou Smyth, Pepperdine University; Dr. Chris App, technology futurist and author; Dr. Stephen Law, philosopher and author; Kiran Pereira, Founder and Chief Storyteller, Sandstories; Dr. Kirsty Fairclough, Manchester Metropolitan University' Jacynth Basset, Founder of The Bias Cut and Ageism is Never in Style®.
Extract from Innovation Against All Odds:
"Authored at the interface of disciples and demographies, this report is holistic in its methodology, rejecting siloed quantitative approaches of the all-too-quickly dateable kind, such as online surveys and spot-check polls. Drawing on insights from one-to-one conversations with individuals of whom the careers have been spent treading paths unknown to pioneer groundbreaking new ideas, inventions, and the industries they collectively manifest, together with review of data of copious kind, this work stresses the imperative for innovation led by highly informed choices on the part of businesses of every size, type, and location.
Forewarned is forearmed, and particularly when working against umpteen odds. Though often presented as either the sum of exponentially expanding and invariably disconnected parts or one of many qualitatively distinct trajectories of which the outcomes sit at tangents, in practice not [always] theory, the future - or at least parts of it - is relatively predictable: history does often repeat itself, and it repeats itself because at the level of systems outputs are coupled to inputs and thus patterns tend to emerge.... an array of advancements both technical and conceptual are enabling more dots to be joined, and joined at speeds unthinkable in the past. The Internet now laden with often deeply conflicting accounts of possible near futures, this report is designed to disseminate what developments in not one, not two, but many disciplines collectively suggest to be key considerations that they working in business and beyond need consider in the immediate years ahead."
Read in full on Issuu here or download on Academia or Researchgate.
On June 2nd between 17:00 - 19:00 GMT Professors Without Borders think tank and Lecturers Without Borders will cohost 'Rebooting STEM: New Era, New Curriculum' to discuss aspects of STEM that were traditionally neglected, yet have proved particularly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic: soft skills, ethics, and credibility.
The first session, titled 'Improving Soft Skills in STEM', will be moderated by virological, science comms educator, and Lecturers Without Borders scientists co-ordinator, Eugenia Covernton and feature speakers Meenakshi Narain, Professor of Physics at Brown University, member of CERN Laboratory, and fellow of the American Physical Society; Tram Anh Nguyen, Co-Founder of CFTE, Board Advisor of EDHEC, and Industry Fellow at Imperial College; and Nikolena Christofi, PhD Student at IRT Saint Exupery, and Soft Skills Trainer with the Board of European Students of Technology.
The second session, titled 'Ethics and Credibility in STEM', will be moderated by Victor Warlop Piers de Raveschoot, researcher in Nanomaterials, Photonics, Condensed Matter Physics, and Magnetism at Stanford University, and feature speakers Rajan Kumar, Lecturer in Materials Science and Engineering at Stanford University; Oliver Geffen, Epidemiologist and Surveillance Scientist Consultant for the WHO, and Visiting Researcher at Imperial College, and myself. Find further information on the speakers' credentials here.
Extract from the conference programme
"The conference explores the STEM curriculum and makes suggestions for a 21st century reboot including a focus on soft skills and ethics.
It will be divided into 2 panels of 3 experts, each panel lasting 1 hour. The panels start with a short introduction by each of the panellists in which they describe their background and expertise, followed by a 40-minute Q&A with the moderators and the audience.
Panel 1: Improving Soft Skills in STEM
Being a scientist or engineer involves much more than being able to perform experiments and interpret data. It involves being able to communicate effectively, show empathy, creativity, flexibility, and open mindedness. These soft skills are hard to acquire and sometimes even harder to evaluate. We have all heard that "soft skills are important", but exactly why is that so? How do we evaluate our own abilities in order to improve? How do we motivate others to improve their soft skills when they may not even know there's a problem? And how do we help without imposing our own views, biases, and judgements? This panel will aim to address and debate over these questions and propose ideas for action.
Panel 2: Ethics and Credibility in STEM
The Covid-19 pandemic showed some of the best and worst of the scientific world: while millions of scientists around the world openly shared their research and collaborated towards finding treatments and ways to prevent new infections and deaths, several big scandals arose involving forged results, badly designed clinical trials and other types of misconduct. How can we, as a scientific community, discourage "cheating"? What are the factors that may be tempting scientists to commit scientific fraud? And how do we recover the public faith in science when scandals resonate louder than the "good science"? In this panel the focus will be on how to combat the speed of misinformation by encouraging ethical science and by increasing the credibility of scientists in the public eye."
An event open to the wider scientific and research community, registration is free, but advanced booking is necessary. Find out more and book a place here.
Technological and wider advances in the sciences necessitate scientists in and beyond the life sciences develop new skills and knowledge in areas including statistics, programming, automation, experimental design, and much more. Added to this, shifts more generally are influencing how, where, and when research is conducted. So how might the lab of the future work, and how can both established and emerging researchers equip themselves for the new scientific frontier?
Back in March I joined Computer-Aided Biology's Dr. David Kirk and Dr. Fane Mensah in conversation for the CABTtalk podcast series. We cover issues as diverse as science ethics, communications, commercial applications, how external sectors and disciplines are and may impact on the sciences, to name a few. Hear our conversation here and find out more about Computer-Aided Biology here.
Image: Edrengiyn Nuruu, Mongolia courtesy of USGS
On May 27th at 5pm GMT, I'll be joining speakers inc. Anouska Anquetil for 'Creative Lab: Defining Sustainability Pillars' on Clubhouse. Hosted by Aterre Society, the drop-in audio session will explore how, 'in a world saturated by terms 'Eco' and 'Sustainable' we define the fundamental pillars of sustainable design across the built environment, climate, community, and more.
Find out more here.
Image: Tim Marshall on Unsplash
Earlier this year, the Global Research & Innovation in Plastics Sustainability digital conference brought together leading researchers and practitioners from academic, industry, and government in the UK and beyond to explore the most promising possible solutions to the problem of plastics reaching landfill, incinerators, or becoming fugitive in the environment. Speakers including The Tyre Collective's Hanson Cheng and I discussed the particular problems presented by polymer microparticles in the environment and what the state-of-the-science suggests to be the most viable means of mitigating the issue. Our session is now online for those interested in hearing what we had to say. Click here to listen.
Image by Jonathan Farber on Unsplash
Though, at the macro-scale, the problem of plastics flowing into the world's oceans has been well-documented, until recently, at the nano and micro scale it remained all but unknown. Several seminal papers on the issue having been published this past 24 months has helped raise visibility of the issue. However, much is the work still to be done to raise awareness of the scale and nature of this complex problem across industry, academia, and the public at large. Published on April 6th, 'Insights Report: 2030 | Invisible Ocean Pollutants from our Roads', authored by Dr. David Greenfield and myself, with assistance from researcher Natalie Ibbott and graphic designer Jacob Arney, summarises the scale of the nano and micro plastics pollution caused by tyres, together with some of the ways in which the problem may be addressed in the coming decade and beyond.
The product of several months of research, including an extensive literature review, a roundtable attended by twenty leaders from several STEM fields including toxicology and ecotoxicology, information communications technologies, and science and wider policy, among others, together with a survey and expert interviews, the 40-page report, which was commissioned by SUEZ group, is available open access via a download on their site. In particular, I'd like to thank friends and peers for their invaluable contribution to the research insights, including Dr. Richard Miller, Assoc. Director of Connected Places Catapult and founder of Miller-Klein Associates; Olivier de Matos, General Secretary at the European Centre for Ecotoxicology and Toxicolgy of Chemicals [ECETOC]; Dr. Peter van Manen, Vice President at Living PlanIT; Nuno Silva, Chief Scientific Officer at UnifAI Technology; and Emily Penn, co-founder and leader at eXXpedition.
Extracts from the report
"Tyre Wear Particles (TWP) are the abraded surface of vehicle tyres, between 1nm to 0.5mm, and deposited on the road surface or blown into surrounding environments. TWP comprise a cocktail of natural rubber, synthetic compounds, fillers, antioxidants, antiozonants and curing systems. Due to the mix of materials, they are classed as a microplastic.
The term “Invisible Ocean Pollutant” has been coined because of the physical invisibility of TWP and that few people know TWP are a major source of pollution in the oceans. The conclusion from the research undertaken is that TWP are a major environmental pollutant and this is only starting to become recognised as an issue. Annually between 28% (17,640 tonnes) and 34% (23,120 tonnes) of TWP are entering the UK marine environment. Globally, this is a major environmental concern, where it is currently estimated that up to 1.03 million tonnes of microplastic will be in the oceans by 2030 (if using the UK assumption of 28-34%, 288,400 – 350,200 tonnes of TWP), and more than doubling to over 2.5 million tonnes (700,000 – 850,000 tonnes of TWP) by 2050.
This Insight Report summarises the detailed research and discussion contained within the adjoining Annexes and give recommendations to the resource management sector on some of the potential actions available to address and to mitigate the “Invisible Ocean Pollutants” that are Tyre Wear Particles.
Many factors involved in the design, fabrication, production and maintenance of tyres, vehicles, roads and other transport networks, in combination with shifts in citizen behaviour, will influence the extent to which we are able to mitigate our invisible pollution problems of the present. The five factors are:
1. Design of tyres
2. Design of cars
3. Design of roads and their water management
4. Driving skills and training
5. Improved interception at source
At present, it appears that plastic pollution is not the primary driver of material sourcing and wider innovations in the tyre industry, with the need to address issues including climate change, vehicle efficiency and performance, driver safety and market competitiveness taking clear precedence. However, innovations with an initial intent to address one problem often address others, and several of the latest tyre sourcing, design, production and maintenance concepts recently presented by leaders in the tyre sector have the capacity to help mitigate the problem of invisible plastic pollution.
There needs to be far more awareness among local authorities, real estate developers, industry and governments more generally, of the potential role of drainage and other urban and peri-urban infrastructure in mitigating the invisible pollution problem.
Solutions will need to be approached both from a financial or regulatory incentive perspective and design and life-cycle perspective, as well as involving leaders from governments, the waste, chemical, civil engineering and automotive industries, water treatment, urban infrastructure planning, technology, marine and freshwater biology, and wider environmental science sectors."
Read the report in full here.
Image: Oliver Roos on Unsplash
Authored by fellow futurists David Houle, Gerd Leonard and Glen Hiemstra the Fork in the Road manifesto invites they working in the foresight professions to utilise their influence to address critical social and environmental issues. Having been invited to join the manifesto signatories, I joined peers including David Brin, Richard Watson, Joyce Gioia, together with a growing number of others from around the world in supporting the endeavour.
Extracts from the manifesto
"Humanity has entered a critical moment in its history. The coming decade is a time of great historical significance, and the decisions humanity collectively makes in the next 10 years may well determine whether our future is bright and prosperous, or whether it leads to misery and perhaps even our eventual demise as a species.
The great thinker, designer and futurist R. Buckminster Fuller (‘Bucky’) wrote several seminal books describing this pivotal moment in history, which he called the Fork in the Road.
Humanity has entered the decisive decade and stands at perhaps the greatest, most monumental junction in the history of our species. While many forces challenge the future, we recognize these 4 overarching issues:
The initiators and initial signatories of this manifesto agree and hereby declare the urgent need to raise global awareness, to engage in wide education and debate, and to take decisive actions on these key issues in order to bring about fundamental shifts in all areas of human endeavour.
We must start acting based on solid science, deep foresight, collective ethics and practical wisdom, and ask not what the future may bring but what future we want, and how we will create it. Rather than tacitly agreeing to our seemingly inevitable future, we must actively create our preferred future.
The Fork In The Road Project commits to dramatically raising awareness at this critical moment in history, and to influencing decision makers around the globe to make the necessary changes needed so that humanity will flourish going forward.
We commit to elevating the discourse and decision making of all to this vision of urgency, and the opportunity we have in this decade to ensure humanity’s future. We commit to telling stories about the urgency of this decade in assuring a long-term future for humanity and all life. We urge all who agree to step up, to sign and share this manifesto to redirect humanity toward a positive future."
Read the manifesto in full here.
On March 25th March I had the pleasure to join the University of Innsbruck's Synthetic Landscape Lab Final Thesis jury together with the lab's director, Prof. Claudia Pasquero and members including Maria Kuptsova who supervised the research projects, and fellow jurors cofounder and director of ecoLogic Studio Dr. Marco Poletto and ETH Zurich's Melanie Fessel.
Working within the investigative conceptual framework of the lab, each of the projects presented explored the potentialities of an ecological intelligence through the convergence of all processes and systems - humans, animal, microbiological, technological and digital, that are currently accelerating the transformation of our Urbansphere.
'Agbogbloshie - The Landfill as Landscape' by Sebastian Partoll [seen above and below] examined the possibility of harvesting toxic chemicals that are leached when electronic goods, such as laptops, televisions, and smart phones, are disassembled, through the use of synthetic lichen-like growths in the landscape. Proposed as a means of mitigating a problem [pollution] while offering new economic and social opportunities [i.e. revenue from the sale of the chemicals harvested], the project was beautiful illustrated and animated, both in the live-stream presentation itself, and in Partoll's final dissertation.
'Atlas - Future Alpine Metropolitan Landscape' - Daniel Stiletto [seen second below] explored how augmentation of an Alpine landscape might simultaneously mitigate the issue of flooding, debris falls, and other geological failures, while harvesting water for both residential and industrial use. Through Stiletto's synthetic hydrological lens a critical problem has morphed into an ambitious, but through-provoking solution. Another elegantly executed project, Stiletto particularly impressed jurors with his sublime illustrations and unique visual style.
'The Physarum Game' by Thierry Lopes [seen bottom], spliced biological computing logic with electronic computing practice to create a game that educates citizens on how changes in the landscape human and non-human impact upon regional hydrology and thus water supply. Having chosen Cape Town as the locale for his concept, Lopes' exhibited a robust grasp of research practice, original thinking in his approach, as, as did Stiletto and Partoll, the ability to take on board the advisories of both course jurors and supervisors to deliver noteworthy works that met the highest standards in research and practice in their respective discipline.
Well done to Sebastian, Daniel, and Thierry, together with Claudia, Maria, and the Synthetic Landscape Lab team, and fellow course jurors on, yet again, raising the bar in this critical research and practice domain.
Image: Alluvial fan, Xinjiang, China courtesy of USGS.
Getting a career going post-graduation is rarely easy at the best of times. But, a pandemic underway, Britain adjusting to life outside the EU, and the UK and wider global economy in a less than robust state, the classes of 2019, 2020 and 2021 have it particularly tough.
On April 23rd I'll be giving an online lecture and surgery in which I'll share insights and advice on ways to navigate a path through the unfolding storm. Part of University of Greenwich's 'Alumni Showcase' series, and titled, 'STEAM-ED Surgery | Starting Out and Up Across Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics, Enterprise and Design', the surgery will focus on addressing the particular challenges typically experienced by they working at the edge of innovation and enterprise, issues covered will include:
- how to make your personal career mark
- how to find and develop collaborative relationships
- the opportunities and risks when starting a start-up
- navigating the unknown – pathfinding where there are no pre-existing paths
- crafting your career over time
- getting the price and pitch for new client work right
- who’s who and you – building a productive network
- when to let go and walk away – knowing when enough is enough
- why no-one knows it all – finding a mentor and more
Featuring a 30-minute lecture and 30-minute Q&A, attendees are invited to share their career questions and concerns at the end of the session.
The Alumni Showcase is an ongoing series of virtual alumni-led events where ideas, advise, and experiences are shared to spark conversations and new friendships and connections.
Find out more and register here.
Melissa Sterry, PhD, chartered design scientist, systems theorist, biofuturist, and serial founder inc. Bionic City®
Asking the question "how would nature design a city" since 2010.
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