TechForesight 2038

I had the opportunity of imaging how nanophotonic will change our technology 20 years from now, and to present my vision at TechForesight2038: Shifting realities , a great event organised by Imperial at the British Library. 

While it has been a real challenge to move from presenting what I can back up with hard data and experiments to speculations, I really enjoyed to extrapolate the future from current science, imaging how our research could get into the real world. I have never done anything like that before, I am very grateful to the Imperial TechForesight team that has supported me, and basically taught me how to talk to industrial partners. There was any flow attribute it to my poor acting skills ;-)

Wheatstone Innovation Lab - Wlab

How do you teach creativity to the next generation of scientists?

I have always had the feeling we can do better than simple frontal teaching and book reading. In particular for experimental science the conventional laboratory does not convey the excitement and frustration of a real experiment nor its open-ended nature.

With this in mind Matthew Howard  from Robotics and I have started the The Wheatstone Innovation Laboratory (Wlab), as a scientific maker space for our students.

Students at work in Wlab

Students at work in Wlab

Wlab is an interdisciplinary laboratory with a novel bottom-up approach to science experimentation and innovation. It is named after Sir Charles Wheatstone, a scientist and inventor, who was constantly making new devices and instruments. By embedding artistic makers with skills in traditional crafts we recapture that creative and inventive spirit, giving our students the confidence to experiment and learn by making, as well as developing new skills in areas (such as enamelling, embroidery, or glass making) that would otherwise be inaccessible to them in the formal teaching of traditional science and engineering disciplines.

Wlab's first year has been a success, and it has stimulated our students to be inquisitive, to observe and ask scientific and artistic questions during the making process, not separately, as in the more academic way. Moreover, working side by side with makers, the students soon realised they have a common approach to research and a shared fascination with light, material and electronics. In this way they started to develop an understanding about the relevance of whatever they do within a much broader context. 

Here below two of our first projects, an ultraprecise clock with nanosecond resolution and Kinba the robot receptionist, which we have also exhibited at the V&A, during the Digital Design Weekend in September 2016.

The ultra precise clock

The ultra precise clock

Kinba the robot receptionist

Kinba the robot receptionist

A glass-maker in our lab: Parallel Practice

Shelley James, a brilliant glass maker (shelleyjames.com) has been resident in our lab last year, within the Parallel Practice programme of the Crafts Council and the Cultural Institute in King's. Together we investigating making and problem-solving through glass techniques and experimentation to broaden learning and confidence.

This was an unusual project for me, and I was wondering how we would have combined our "practices" as they say in the craft world, mixing physics and the art of glass making. After our first discussions we realised we had a common language of light and matter, and have dived into fascinating speculations on light, crystals, colours, lasers.

In her words: This was an intense and wonderful experience and has sown the seeds for a rich network of relationships and ideas that I look forward to cultivating in the months and years to come. It’s also been the catalyst for me to develop a new technique for casting in glass - and to begin my first experiments in colour since my MA thesis, over 25 years ago!

If you want to know more just follow this link for a short film by Mike Paterson about the Parallel Practice experience https://vimeo.com/183640009


A physicist at the Biennale di Venezia

Last week I had the chance to discuss colours from a nanophotonics point of view, at a meeting about Fundamentals of Space: Colour and Line organised at the Biennale of Architecture, and invited by the energetic Ivana Wingham.

I am always fascinated by cross-contamination like these, and despite the large differences in method and language (my first live performance of dance and art during the talks) nothing brings more new ideas than talking to the other side of the brain, to a different audience. Very often we risk of forgetting the world outside the lab, as we put so much efforts in solving the scientific puzzles, and events like these bring me back to real life.

I really enjoyed learning about colour in architecture, to form space, to affect our brain. I also discovered interferential painting done by coated mica crystals, much more interesting than titanium dioxide powders! Still nothing from Mie resonators or plasmonic particles though…

Will this start a new architectural-artistic-scientific project? Will keep you posted.

Fundamentals of Space: Colour and Line