Archive for the 'event' Category

ageing, conferences, event

How to build interdisciplinary understanding among researchers of aging? Lessons from the recent Center for Healthy Aging retreat day

On Friday 13th May, Adrian Bertoli, Morten Hillgaard Bülow and I attended the University of Copenhagen Center for Healthy Aging (CEHA) retreat day at the DGI Congress Center here in Copenhagen and we have decided to bring our experiences of the day together in one blog post.

Lucy says:
Everyone involved in each of CEHA’s five programmes was required to participate and it was definitely a day of two halves. CEHA Managing Director Lene Juel Rasmussen introduced the proceedings and her talk was followed by short overviews given by each of the programme leaders. The morning was dominated by traditional PowerPoint based presentations used to display schematics, charts, diagrams and arrows that sometimes became overcomplicated and confusing. Then PhDs and postdoctoral researchers presented research highlights from each programme. One very interesting presentation was by PhD student Aske Juul Lassen on Programme 5 who described his field studies and collaboration with No Age innovative solutions for elderly people in his research into technologies and communities for the active elderly

After lunch we were split into groups and invited to join in ‘The Hunt for the Elixir of Life’ – a cross-disciplinary dialogue. This was organized by the young researchers and involved the groups going into a series of rooms where different scenarios were enacted. In the ‘TV/Fitness’ room an elderly man watching TV phoned his busy daughter while she was working out at the gym. In the ‘Nursing Home’ room an elderly diabetic resident was shown being left to eat her lunch alone. In ‘General Practice’ room the scenario played was of a stressed, pregnant woman and a clock watching GP. In the ‘Chess Club’ room an elderly man playing chess with his regular partner became frustrated about starting to lose games and in the ‘Work Place’ room cigarette-smoking workmen with backaches had a health assessment.

Each different scenario played out gave rise to discussion on different aspects of ageing research. The overall question was how we might go about asking questions or researching topics raised in the scenarios from across all our disciplines. This part of the day was a great success and in my opinion the ‘Chess Club’ room worked best. Here, not only was a scenario enacted but we were asked to engage in an activity. We were given five cards with pictures on. We had to choose the top two cards we felt represented things to help with the problem shown in the performance and explain our reasons for choosing them. This participatory activity led to good discussion and the chance for all to voice opinions not just a few who had previously dominated conversations.

At times the differences between wet and dry sciences were seen as a hindrance and there were still signs of hierarchy between disciplines. Though it is hard to tell whether the aim of interdisciplinarity across the programmes will be achieved, it was valuable to bring all members of CEHA together in one space.

Adrian says:
A day of two halves is a very apt summary of the Center for Healthy Aging’s retreat. I can appreciate the need to have an overview of the five programmes, and the importance of allowing young researchers to present research highlights. It was nice to hear what goes on within the Center, I personally knew little about the other programmes, but the presentation format means that for the most part the researchers remained faceless names on the screen. The afternoon was a great success, the creativity and ‘unorthodox’ method of engaging researchers has set the bar high for future CEHA events.

What was missing for me was a chance to do more informal networking and socializing, especially among PhD students and Postdoctoral researchers. It is one thing to know the general research interests of the programmes, but another to know more about the people behind these. If we are to bridge the differences between the wet and dry sciences and create a common language, perhaps more informal channels would be effective. It might be a cultural difference in choice of words, but when I picture a retreat, I think of various social activities and games, chances to see the lighter side of your colleagues. This happened to some extent in the afternoon sessions, but was still somewhat plagued by power dynamics between senior and junior staff. There was a social hour afterwards; perhaps people were a bit tired after a full day of activities as not many stuck around. Even fewer of us made it out afterwards where we went out for dinner and drinks.

On the whole the day was interesting and entertaining, the venue was nice and we were well catered to in terms of food and drink. I just came away at the end of the day not knowing much more about the people who are on paper my colleagues at the Center for Healthy Aging. We are physically isolated among various campuses, the challenge becomes how to make the most of the unfortunately too seldom times we are all gathered together.

Morten says:
As one of the organizers of the last part of the CEHA Retreat, I was very curious about how it would turn out. From the start when we were asked to organize the afternoon, our small group of PhDs and postdocs all agreed that we wanted to do something different than another line of talks or poster-sessions. I think it was Bjarke Oxlund who first came up with (and was given responsibility for) the idea of a ‘treasure-hunt’  – which was not actually a hunt for the elixir of life, but rather a hunt for interdisciplinarity, which we had been told was to be the theme of the day.

In this hunt we wanted to avoid thinking in research programmes and instead think of themes or situations that could be viewed from different disciplinary perspectives. And we wanted to facilitate discussions that would illuminate differences and similarities between disciplines – and preferably, in the process, show the value of each research perspective and how they might fertilise each other.

I don’t know if we succeeded, but the process of coming up with these themes and situations in itself was a challenge and a learning experience. Setting it up to involve participants demanded serious considerations – our main worry was that nobody would want to discuss these issues or that they would think the whole set up too light hearted and oppose it. After all, we wanted this event to bring participants ‘outside’ the boundaries of the traditional disciplines; outside their scientific comfort zone, so to speak. For some participants this did indeed seem to imply that what we did was also un-scientific (in the broad sense of the word). It was sometimes difficult to keep the discussions going or to go up against a certain understanding of what can or what cannot count as relevant (research) questions.

But there were also mostly great discussions and interesting topics coming up so that the allotted 20 minutes per group often felt too short a time. People were just warming up to the subject of the workshop when you had to rush them out the door to receive the next group. The groups were very different – group dynamics were central to how the discussions went, and actually seemed much more important than what disciplines were represented.

This for me stressed the importance of having an open attitude towards other people and disciplines and of having enough time to develop this openness in a suitable context. For interdisciplinary discussions to work, this seemed an important take-home message.

aesthetics of biomedicine, collections, displays/exhibits, event, history of medicine, history of technology, medical scientific instruments

Using our collections to put current trends in microscopy in perspective

1lunch time

One of our basic aims here at Medical Museion is to put current trends in biomedicine in a longer historical perspective. Last Friday, we got yet another opportunity for doing this, when the new Core Facility for Integrated Microscopy at the Faculty of Health Sciences opened together with an international research symposium on the state-of-the-art of microscopy.

1mmm interestingIn the hallway outside the symposium room, we displayed a selection of six of our most beautiful old microscopes that represent the development from early simple single lenses to end of the 19th century compound microscopes. The aim was to make the symposium participants better appreciate the beauty of early microscopes and the craftsmanship that has gone into constructing them.

During the lunch break, I had a chat with Peter Evennett, who has edited the English version of Harald Moe’s classical The Story of the Microscope together with Chris Hammond. Peter and Chris, who are members of the Royal Microscopical Society’s outreach and education committee, has helped us select the displayed items from our large collection of microscopes and write the showcase texts for the exhibition, which was designed and put together by Bente and Ion.

1magnifying glassThe oldest microscope (or rather replica of a microscope) selected is actually only a lens in a brass fitting, made in 1670 by Anthony van Leuwenhoek of Delft, who for the first time ever was able to clearly observe life on an incredibly small scale. Holding the lens at a slant towards the light, he was able to see living bacteria and wriggling, human sperm cells. It was the beginning of a whole new era for science.

1beaglemikroskopPeter went on to tell me how early microscopes weren’t used for science, as I thought, but were a kind of intellectual hobby and prestige objects for wealthy gentlemen. Consequently many of the microscopes from this period are quite charming and exquisite. It wasn’t until the 1830s — when the wine merchant J. J. Lister was able to produce objectives that minimised the colour fringing — that the microscope was seriously introduced into science. And so in 1839 a group of scientists got together to propose a toast to the instrument and to found the Royal Microscopical Society.

On display was also a modern single lens microscope from 1848, just like the one Darwin brought with him on the Beagle. The newest microscopes in the exhibition were compound microscopes from the end of the 19th century. They had a double lens system, with an objective lens that projected the image from the sample up through the tube to the eye lens, which worked as a magnifying glass. The light was redirected from a window or an oil lamp via a small built-in mirror, to hit the sample from below and carry the image up the tube, to the pupil of the scientist’s eye.

And then Peter’s efforts to educate me became technical …

Though it was by means of light that the microscope functioned, light was also the factor setting the limit for how detailed the samples could be shown. Opposed to what many people think, the basic principle in microscopy is not magnification, but  resolution. In the 1860s and 1870s, the German physician Ernst Abbe (co-owner of the Carl Zeiss AG, the famous microscope producer) discovered that the smallest distance you can have between two things before the images of them merge — and thereby determining how detailed a picture you can see in a microscope — is limited by three factors:  1) the angle of the light entering the microscope, 2) the substance through which the light has to pass, and 3) the wavelength of the light.

Of these three limiting factors the last is now being contested by using electrons with a wavelength 100.000 times smaller than visible light. But, as Peter puts it, that’s using tricks.

biotech, event, general, history of technology, news, recent biomed

Living Technology — futures of medicine?

In August, the Danish Initiative for Science, Society and Policy (ISSP) will arrange a ‘discussion of the broader implications of living technology’ that might be interesting to anyone who thinks the boundary between inorganic and organic, living and dead, or technology and humans is exciting. Or to anyone who wants to get a glimpse of the future of science and medicine, maybe?

As the organisers write on their webpage:

Today, genetically modified organisms are designed and used in the laboratory to allow pharmaceuticals to be synthesized with precision in large quantities; autonomously working robots acting on the same principles thought to underlie insect behavior are increasingly introduced not only in industrial production but also healthcare; and adaptive network traffic controllers are currently being developed to control the flow of the ‘arteries’ of working life.

I first wondered at the scale of this technology — is this ‘just’ another word for nano-technology or are we talking robots of the more impressive kind (in terms of size)? And is it then robots like the robotic seal used for Alzheimer’s patients or something more science fiction-like, as the picture above, taken from the ISSP website, implies? The answer, according to ISSP, is that it is all of this:

Three examples of living technology are synthetic biology attempts to make living systems from scratch in the laboratory, ICT systems exhibiting collective and swarm intelligence distributed across the world wide web, and robots currently cleaning our households, providing companions for the autistic, and the like.

The preliminary programme for the discussion does not seem to emphasise healthcare, though the need for “thinking through the implications” of this technology looks to me to be particularly important in this field. The concept of living technology might appear to be a contradiction in terms (just like ‘synthetic biology‘), but maybe it will become the next big thing in healthcare.

aesthetics of biomedicine, art and biomed, event, general, public outreach, recent biomed

Alzheimer opera at the Royal Opera, London, in July – art, biomedicine and public engagement with science

Here’s another new example of a apparently fruitful collaboration between art and biomedicine – an opera called The Lion’s Face exploring Altzheimer’s disease and dementia. This time even with a public engagement with science twist. As Felicity Callard – who were involved in the production of the opera, and who just advertised it on the Neuroscience and Society mailing list – describes:

Fundamental to the development of the opera was the sustained involvement of patients, healthcare staff, family members, as well as basic & clinical researchers. The librettist & composer visited the biomarkers labs, talked extensively to the various stakeholders and witnessed various practices of dementia care.

The opera premiered at the Brighton Festival in May 2010, and will come to the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House, London in July 2010. The opera explores the lifeworlds and current research practices surrounding Alzheimer’s disease, and opens up a variety of questions vis-a-vis how aesthetic projects engage with social scientists, scientists and other stakeholders in the development of creative work that explores biomedical research and practices.

This event seems increadibly interesting (from my point of view investigating neuroscience and concepts of aging), and I certainly wish I was going to London this summer so I could experience it.

It’s not only that it appearently is really good science communication in the sense of communicating the experience and important aspects of a dreaded disease – see Dementia opera so realistic it could be used as teaching aid for medical students – but also that it shows the potential of art as a interactive medium for both public engagement with science and science engagement with public. Which, by the way, is just what I think the ideal medical museum should be!

collections, event

Congress for curious people

Events like the upcoming ‘Congress for Curious People’ — organised by Joanna Ebenstein (Morbid Anatomy) and some of her Observatory friends and colleagues — makes me think that New York, NY, is sometimes a more rewarding place to live than Copenhagen, DK (at least if you are interested in curiosities and collections). 

The Congress (which is held 9-18 April in conjunction with the Coney Island Museum) includes panels examining the collecting of curiosities, the history of ethnographic display and the interface of spectacle and education in 19th and 20th century amusements, and the politics of bodily display in the amusement parks, museums, and fairs of the Western world. It also features nightly lectures on topics as the taxidermy of a Victorian curiosity-collector, the history of automata featuring an actual automata demonstration, a meditation on ‘the saddest object in the world’, taxidermy in the fine arts etc. A ‘Collectors Cabinet’, showcasing astounding objects held in private collections, will be on view for the entire Congress. In conjunction with the events at the museum, Observatory will host ‘The Secret Museum’, an exhibition exploring “the poetics of hidden, untouched and curious collections from around the world”.

Much more on Joanna’s blog! And by the way, Joanna is hopefully attending the conference on ‘Contemporary biomedical science and medical technology as a challenge to museums’ organised here in Copenhagen, 16-18 September, so we will get a chance to discuss contemporary medical curiosities with her then.

art and biomed, event, public outreach, visualization

‘Bacteria Drawing’ at the Hybrid Art & Science Exhibition in Sheffield

The Hybrid Art Science Networking Association, which is led by Leeds-based artist Paul Digby and Sheffield-based scientist and artist Lizz Tuckerman, enables artists and scientists of all disciplines to meet, and encourages cross-disciplinary interaction. It is supported by Arts Council England, Yorkshire.

The Hybrid Art and Science Exhibition was held in various locations around Sheffield. My drawing was part of a collection of work on display at the Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery.

The piece selected for the exhibition is called ‘Bacteria Drawing’ and was made in May 2009. The drawing is a collaborative piece and is constructed from 22 drawings which form one large piece. It is about 170 cm in height, approximately150 cm approx wide and spreads about 170 cm along the floor out from the wall.

Bacteria Drawing 2009

The drawing was made in Lisbon in May 2009 and is an outcome of my involvement in an invited residential project with Drawing Spaces at Fábrica Braço de Prata in conjunction with the Gulbenkian Institute of Science.

Over the last ten years my research has been created in the lab or dissection room rather than in the traditional setting of the artists’ studio. As a way to bring the lab into the gallery and to demonstrate the role of drawing, I allowed bacteria to grow on Petri dishes left in the project/gallery space at Fábrica Braço de Prata.

Using a microscope and drawing attachment, I invited members of the public to come and draw the bacteria they saw when looking down the microscope. The bacteria growing was formed from the breath of those who walked in and out of the project/gallery space. The participants were effectively drawing their own breath. Therefore they contributed both to the existence of the object they observed and to the method of revealing their continuous insights and understanding of their encounters with this phenomenon.

Using a drawing attachment on the microscope which allowed them to look down the microscope and see the bacteria whilst simultaneously seeing a projected image of their own hand holding the pencil meant they were effectively ‘tracing’ what they saw directly onto paper. They engaged with something that would normally repel them and through the activity of drawing, they saw the beauty and detail in bacteria. Rather than being concerned with the mechanics of making a drawing, they concentrated on the activity of actually looking, something we all frequently forget to do.

Participant3 Participant11

Joining together all the drawings made, the piece ‘Bacteria Drawing’ grew and developed collaboratively, paralleling the growth of the actual bacteria itself.

This drawing brought about further evidence of how important the activity of drawing is to understanding and dignifying observed subjects. The public saw the beauty of the unfamiliar by drawing. The project showed that drawing is not mere documentation but is about participation. This participation is embodied in the relationships that develop between artist and object and that the object observed is dignified through the respect and understanding gained in the activity of drawing.

displays/exhibits, event, marketing and advertising

In-your-face marketing

We have tried many different ways of marketing our exhbitions to the prospective audience (posters, direct-mails, postcards, you name it) — with varying success. One of the problems with posters and postcards is the one-way communication; if people want more information, they have to make an extra effort.

In connection with the new extra-mural exhibition ‘Healthy Aging: A Lifespan Approach’ that opened two weeks ago in the main building of the Faculty of Health Sciences (see here). we tried out a more personal way to get in contact with our prospective audience.

The idea was to give students and staff at the University’s Southern Campus (Faculty of Humanities) and the Faculty of Health Sciences an opportunity to put a human face on Medical Museion. So some of our student docents were sent out to hand out flyers in the main buildings of the two faculties and to answer whatever questions people they met might have.

All in all, this ‘in-your-face marketing’ operation was a success. It gave us a nice opportunity to have conversations about our collections and hear how students and staff responded do the exhibition. If any other museums has had similar experiences. wse would very much like to hear about it.

Here’s student docent Andreas handing out flyers in the main building of the Faculty of Health Sciences. In the background you can see a part of  ‘Healthy Aging – A Lifespan Approach’:

More pictures here.

collections, event

The culture of curiosity (or: keep an eye on OBSERVATORY)

We here at Medical Museion are always on the outlook for new and interesting institutional experiments to learn from. This week’s announcement of up-coming events at OBSERVATORY is inspirational:

The Culture of Curiosity is everywhere these days. Wunderkammern appear in popular art, cutting-edge fashion, film, books and museum exhibitions. This aesthetic has proved surprisingly durable and popular for over 600 years. From temple to home to museum, the Culture of Curiosity continues to exert an irresistible pull on our collective psyches, and it shows no signs of falling from favor any time soon.

I guess our (formerly) own Camilla — who has specialised in how the practice of the Wunderkammer can be transferred to present-day museum practice — couldn’t have said it better. (By the way, her book on Ole Worm’s Wunderkammer, Genstandsfortællinger, is about to be published in Danish…).

So here is OBSERVATORY’s current event programme:

  • Friday, November 13th: The Culture of Curiosity – with Evan Michelson, co-owner of Obscura Antiques & Oddities(AKA “The Morbid Anatomy Gift Shop”).
  • Sunday, November 15th: Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius – with Colin Dickey.
  • Saturday, November 21st: Opening of OBSERVATORY’s next art exhibition, ALL SORTS OF REMEDIES: work by Herbert Pfostl.
  • Friday, December 4th: Occult America – a talk by Mitch Horowitz.
  • Thursday, December 10th: Exquisite Corpses – Illustrated Lecture and Artifacts from the Mütter Museum with the museum’s director, Robert D. Hicks.
  • Friday, December 18th: Art as Magic and the Cold Hard Facts of Life: Herbert Pfostl in conversation with James Walsh.

Wish I lived in Brooklyn, NY. For CO2-reasons, I wouldn’t even think of flying over there. For more information, see