After 6 months in development, upon gaining a people award from The Wellcome Trust, The ASCUS lab opened it’s doors for the first time in February 2016; the biggest step towards our vision to democratise science and a physical space to directly support our aim to foster innovative interdisciplinary investigation and curiosity. To our knowledge it remains Scotland’s first publically accessible laboratory for experimentation in art & science. The lab will be 3 years old in February 2019.
In 2016, the facility which was a working lab in Summerhall’s previous life as the Royal Dick Veterinery School qualified as a biosafety Level 1 wet lab. It is suitable for work with low risk biological agents and hazards, microorganisms, fungi and plants. We have a skilled lab technician to oversee safety.
ASCUS lab’s first endeavour was a collaboration with Edinburgh University’s Festival of Creative Learning, then named Innovative Learning Week. A focus of the festival was play and participants were invited to have a frolic with science in workshops exploring ultrasound, zebra fish and chromatography. 2019 will bring our 3rd collaboration with the Festival of Creative Learning.
We have a suite of high-magnification upright and inverted microscopes now equipped with a range of microscopy techniques including; polarised light, dark-field and oil immersion. We also now host our own collection of microorganisms which includes but is not limited to; Bioluminescent bacteria, Pigmented bacteria, Oscillatoria sp., Actinomycetes, S. cerevisiae, Microscopic fungi, Slime mould and E. coli. We have Biological Class II Safety Cabinet facilities, a centrifuge, incubators and other consumables and media for preparing cultures.
We also now have PCR machines for DNS analysis, electrophoresis kits, gel docs and a transilluminator and printer for visualising DNA. Through more development work we were granted our genetic modification license for work with microorganisms and C. elegans approved by the health and safety executive in 2017 and we have autoclaving facilities to safeguard this type of work. Proudly, all our lab equipment is ex research equipment and has been donated kindly by among others, Edinburgh University and the NHS so we are a fully sustainable facility.
In partnership with Baillie Gifford, ASCUS Lab has also provided skills workshops and training courses with a focus on microbiology and microscopy to develop the basic awareness and skills needed to feel at home in our lab. We have hosted many members of the public game to have a go with scientfic tools creating wonderful imagery down the microscope and peering at an usually hidden world in a petri dish.
The existence of the lab has led to new connections between the art and science world resulting in artists using science for the first time and scientists of various fields feeling more freedom to have a play with different practices. As well as of course many inquisitors visiting to simply have a play with our tools and get creative with science.
Over the last 3 years our facility has played host to a number of cross disciplinary independent lab projects, including but not limited to developing a bioreactor, classifying lichen species, an exploration of the hidden world of crystals, designing textiles from kombucha and sculpting resin and recycled materials.
We can’t wait to see what is possible in the next 10 years and beyond