That’s a wrap!

Can you believe that 2021 is nearly behind us? Us neither!

Nevertheless, the approach to the end of the year has left us reminiscing on 2021. It’s been a challenging one that’s for sure, but it has also been one that has brought out our resilience and determination to adapt to the challenges given to us, and we are proud of all the projects we have been able to accomplish despite working at extremely reduced capacity, the ongoing lockdowns, and the uncertainty and impact Covid had has on the arts and hands-on work, two of the core aspects of our work.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you who have helped keep ASCUS going through these difficult times, we really wouldn’t have been able to achieve what we did without you. Whether through membership subscriptions to use the lab facilities, making a donation after we launched our fundraising campaign in autumn, sharing our social media content, or collaborating with us in your project, we truly appreciate everyone’s contributions and we hope you enjoy reading about all the things that kept us busy this year!

Art and Science on a Postcard

We were once again able to connect scientists and artists for the fourth iteration and very first online version of our Art and Science on a Postcard event series in partnership with InterSci Edinburgh, in April. This was a three week collaboration effort bringing together scientists and creative practitioners from different stages of their career with research interests and practices ranging from microbiology, immunology and translational neuroscience  to multimedia, silversmithing and arts education. As a result of this workshop happening virtually, participants joined us from across the UK and the beautiful postcards that resulted, show some of the ideas that can spark, and the creative forms of translation that can emerge when individuals from different disciplines come together.

Connected, Genomes by Danni Gadd representing the connectivity within the body.
Double, complex by Kym Walker representing the double helix structure of DNA

Lab sessions

We were grateful to have non-essential work in the lab starting again in June, and continuing throughout this year. From exploring the process of making the fascinating black magnetic goo, ferrofluid, optimising algae bioreactors, working with lichen, and attempting to make vodka from algae, to getting completely lost in the microscopic world in one-off microscopy sessions, we certainly have had a variety of different artists, scientists and researchers that walked through our doors to create something magical and make their art-science dreams come true! 

Our lab is publicly accessible and a unique space for interdisciplinary research so, if you have been curious about using the equipment in a lab, had a project in mind that you have always wanted to pursue but couldn’t find the place that had what you needed to carry out your vision, this is the sign from the universe that you’ve been waiting for. Enquire at about the ways to explore, carry out your creative experimentation and use our microscopes! 

Lab Members Maja and John making ferrofluid


Edinburgh Science Festival

In May, we finally launched our visual arts exhibition Syncrasy, together with Summerhall as part of the 2021 Edinburgh Science Festival. For the very first time we ran an online artist talks programme to compliment these exhibitions (if you missed them, they are available on our YouTube channel which we launched this year!).

We were thrilled that the three exhibitions, which had been on pause since 2020 could be in person. These exhibitions played with scale to capture the fleeting lifespan of living cells (We Began as Part of the Body; Beverly Hood), exhibited the unacknowledged microbes within the food system (E-Numbers V 2.0; Sneha Solanki), and demonstrated the infinite forces of our environment (Oscillations; Victoria Evans). Alongside this, we also presented two online programmes as we worked hard to showcase new digital content that celebrated art-science crossovers. These digital exhibitions presented new work from ongoing ASCUS projects; Entanglements of Time & Tide presenting a long-term collaboration with India based artist Sonia Mehra Chawla, supported by Edinburgh printmakers and Marine Scotland, and Catalysing Creativity presenting new creative commissions between between artist and chemists, supported by ScotCHEM.

Driving the Human

Three channel immersive installation of The Rooted Sea at Driving the Human Festival in Germany. Image by Sonia Mehra Chawla

We were delighted when The Rooted Sea: Halophytic Futures, a brand new research project, in partnership with Sonia Mehra Chawla and Ray Interactive was chosen out of a thousand open call entries, as one of 21 projects shortlisted to be presented at the Driving the Human festival in Berlin in October this year. It was a thrilling experience to join artists, designers, makers, researchers and technologists from around the globe at this festival and to participate in this experimental initiative which aspires to shape sustainable and collective futures that combine science, technology, and the arts in a transdisciplinary and collaborative approach. We were excited to participate and launch our new project concepts at the Festival and watch this space for more news about this project in 2022.

Some of the halophytic plants sampled from SSSI Firth of Forth mudflats next to Blackness Castle, for microbial culturing for The Rooted Sea.
Some of the samples presented at the Beehive, the interactive portal for The Rooted Sea, as part of the Driving The Human Festival.


Unearthing Micro Life

Processing samples from Holyrood Park in the lab.

Students from the Edinburgh Montessori Arts School joined us for 7 weeks where we explored the biodiversity in Holyrood Park in Edinburgh through art and science. Students collected their own samples from the park and took them back to ASCUSLab to examine the microbes living in these wild spaces closely through culturing microbes on petri dishes and exploring these samples under the microscope. They learnt about the unseen world, and were able to appreciate the beauty of nature through creative work such as plant printing led by artist, Tina Scopa. Working towards the John Muir award, they also assisted Historic Environment Scotland Park rangers in their conservation efforts by creating fire breaks in the park. The students are in the process of making their own videos to capture what they learnt during the course of the programme which we are so looking forward to seeing in 2022, as well as showcasing the programme in Holyrood Park outside the Education Centre from the 17th January – we’d love for you to take a look so keep an eye out on our social media platforms!

Plant prints from Holyrood Park
Creating a fire break to help conservation efforts


Behind the scenes of fertility research workshop

A day in the life of a fertility researcher! Illustration by Emily Fong, 2021

Five couples interested in fertility treatment and the research used daily by scientists in this field came along to ASCUS Lab for a workshop centered around exploring the beautiful, but sometimes troublesome molecule: DNA.

This workshop was led by fertility researchers, Gerard Pieper and Bettina Mihalas from the Adèle Marston lab at the University of Edinburgh, in partnership with the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology, and the amazingly talented artist, Emily Fong who captured the afternoon’s events that were full of learning and laughter. Read the full blog post here to delve deeper into what happened during this event.


What’s next

We are still running our fundraising campaign so if you like what we did this year and would love to see more, please consider donating to help us keep doing this amazing work.

We are already filling up our 2022 calendar with some exciting projects and ideas of how we can continue to move forward, so make sure you are following us on social media to stay tuned. Until then, we hope you all have a fantastic festive season and manage to get in a much needed break!


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