Creating Synthetic Biology: Future Imaginaries in Science and Art

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk


In 2019, the University of Edinburgh Biopolis project invited a selection of prominent writers living in Scotland to engage in conversations with cutting-edge researchers based at the University of Edinburgh in order to create speculative stories about the impact of biotechnology on urban life. The project aimed to expand imaginaries around urban futures by looking at new discoveries of biotechnology, new expressions of biodesign, and new understandings of natural systems, expressed through fiction and artistic means.

Nadanai Laohakunakorn, Chancellor’s Fellow in Biotechnology, and Jane Alexander, creative writing lecturer and writer of speculative fiction, will reflect on their Biopolis collaboration, which asked how synthetic biology might affect our built environment. Nadanai will describe his research into cell-free synthetic biology, framed through the lens of approaching science as a creative enterprise, while Jane will address how creative writing as research can operate as a means of inquiry that produces interdisciplinary knowledge. In discussion, they will consider some of the questions that emerged from their collaboration: what can science learn from the creative approaches of fiction, and vice versa? What kind of knowledge is produced by such collaborations? What happens when the emotion, empathy and ambiguity that characterise fictional investigations converge with the rational search for unambiguous clarity that characterises scientific research? How can sci-art collaborations go beyond public engagement – how can scientific research benefit from collaboration with imaginative writing?
Period19 May 2022
Held atEdinburgh Futures Institute
Degree of RecognitionNational