Morgan is a failed scientist, and there are many things we can learn from the arts and design

In the last 15 years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with botanical scientists from Kew. I also worked with cell scientists at the Gulbenkian Institute in Portugal to create a series of images of stem sections, which were featured recently on the websites for the New Scientist as well as the BBC World Service. This year, I was invited to join a EUR10m project with Melina Schuh. We were investigating mitosis.

No, I’m not a scientist. I failed my science classes at school twice.

Please forgive me for listing all my achievements. I am doing so to prove a particular point. Despite not having a strong scientific background, I’m now able to speak at the Hayward Gallery as well as the Royal Institution. Yes, I have made it my mission to try and meet scientists halfway by learning their language, no matter how difficult. What has prepared me the most is my exceptional education in art and design, which I taught and now promote by example.

Skin wall Installation view of the Mi Pattern event featuring magnified images of skin. Rob Kesseler


The collaboration between scientists and artists has a long, glorious history. It lasted until the mid-19th Century when the complexity of the scientific disciplines and their escalating cost prevented artists and designers from participating.

The microscopy example is one of many. In the 19th Century, when cameras were added to microscopes and photography became a reality, imaging processes which were previously a collaborative effort were now almost exclusively the domain of scientists. Since the advent of digital platforms, the boundaries are again more permeable, and interdisciplinary communication is easier.

In an age of uncertain futures, our ability to exchange knowledge will be increasingly important in finding solutions for a resilient and sustainable future. Students at art and design schools will be increasingly important as change agents in this environment.

Scientific arts

Let me show you some examples. In a recent project, ceramic designer Anthony Quinn from Central Saint Martins collaborated with computer scientist Steve Benford in order to create visually unique and aesthetically improved QR Codes that significantly enhance their potential applications.

Designers have a lot of options when it comes to big data, synthetic biology and other advances. Carole Collet is an expert on Textile Futures and led , a project which asked designers if they could harness biological technologies in order to exploit big data.

Three weeks were devoted to turning ideas from big data into blueprints of design futures. In one Bespoke care 2030 group project, a team created a system that would store and analyze data indicators (hormones, blood sugar levels, blood pressure levels, nutrients, infections, etc.) from our bodies.

Recently, I organized an event where a gallery in the university was transformed into a laboratory to explore worlds that are too small for us to see with our naked eyes. The gallery was equipped with an extensive and diverse collection of microscopes that were on loan. A desktop Scanning Electronic Microscope Phenom is capable of a magnification up to 100k. Over 800 students and visitors examined, drew and photographed everything from skin blemishes, to stained leaf samples, to geological specimens. The desire to explore and learn was insatiable.

Hand-coloured micrograph of Bicyclus eye spots created with the Phenom Pro X SEM. Katerina Evangelou 2014

Katerina Evangelou is a PhD student at the Illustration department who studies graphic ways to communicate genetic development in butterfly eyespots. Her micrograph, produced at the event, shows how the interference in the scales of the butterfly’s wing coincides with the eye spot. Recent selection of her work for inclusion in peer reviewed scientific paper was made in preference to that produced by the scientist.

Here are a few of the projects that I’ve been involved in. They show the huge potential. Students of art and design will be more inclined to embrace science and technology as the science and technological worlds become more visible.

It is evident that we need to shift from STEM to STEAM. The highest quality education is required across all disciplines. As a country, it is vital that we produce graduates who have a world-class understanding of their discipline. But what is even more important is their ability to engage meaningfully with other disciplines.

To maintain our status as a global leader, it is essential that all students have access to an inclusive education, regardless of their wealth, social standing or discipline.


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