All posts in science

IBI: Weather Maker

The Institute have been busy recently conducting weather modification experiments. We were invited by Phoenix Square in Leicester to undertake a week long residency in their gallery. We used the time to conduct a series of weather modification experiments, as well as collect research material about the facts, speculations and controversies surrounding the science. The devices we built, and the results of our research have been left behind as an exhibition that will be up for the next couple of weeks.
There’s more information and content over here.

Visualising Climate Change … again


The next showing of the Active Ingredient’s project ‘A Conversation Between Trees’ is coming up at the Rufford Gallery and Country Park in Nottinghamshire. It’s running from the 13th September – 30th October 2011, with members of Active Ingredient in residence until 24th September.

There’s been a whole load of development since the last exhibition, with improvements to environmental sensors and mobile app’s to name but a few. The Climate Machine I’m developing has also undergone significant improvement. A lot of the kinks are being smoothed out to not only make it mechanically more efficient, but also to make it more robust and easier for us to run throughout the whole period of the show. We’ve also been playing around with how the machine draws out the data, trying to find the way that we thing offers the most truthful and interpretable impression of global CO2 levels since 1959.
To add to this we also have a new data set based on MET Office predictions for future Co2 levels. This gives forecasts of data up until 2050, which will hopefully allow us to give an impression of a trajectory into the future, and think about what these increasing CO2 levels might mean.

Anyway, I shouldn’t give too much away just yet. For more information visit the project website:

Project LiloRann

[Original Photograph © Anurag Agnihotri]

Back in the summer I spent a great 3 months or so doing an internship with Superflux where I worked on a few new projects that they were starting up, some of which I will continue to be involved in over the coming months.

One of those projects, LiloRann, has just recently been launched. Here’s the elevator pitch:

Could we reverse ecosystem degradation by growing organic structures from unruly, invasive plants?
This is just one of the many possibilities Project LiloRann will explore in the deserts of North Gujarat, India; an area that exemplifies some of the greatest challenges posed by climate change, while being rich with the potential for ecological regeneration and resilience.

Rather than focusing too heavily on outcomes and final products, the project will instigate and maintain a set of processes that enable the combination of local knowledge and more advanced technological practices, such as bio engineering, to tackle the effects of desertification in locally sustainable ways. To do this the project will operate on two levels. Firstly, it’s an ecology project that aims to help local communities in the Gujarat region of Northern India build sustainable resilience against ecosystem degradation, and to see tangible benefit as a result.

Achieving this with any level of success requires an approach that is sensitive to, and takes full advantage of the knowledge, expertise and ability of local communities. So, secondly, the project will create the opportunity for collaborative, interdisciplinary knowledge sharing.

This test-bed for experimentation and collaboration between a unique, interdisciplinary team and local citizens aims to find ways of addressing the global issues of environmental degradation by empowering communities to take on the effects of such changes at a local level. Ultimately, it is our hope that by sharing knowledge in this way, those most at risk from climate change can be better equipped to counter its effects.

Rather than a top down imposition of expertise, the project will aim to create the conditions for emergent forms of new knowledge and ecological practices to be developed through collaborative experiments between members of the project team, local farmers, ecologists, and anyone else who’s interested.  By monitoring and documenting this process, the team hope to derive a framework for how such projects might be conducted more efficiently and sustainably in future. While interest in collaboration to engender emergent practice has been around for a while, it is still something very difficult to  achieve, especially when the project requires the combination of very disparate sets of knowledge. The hope is that these difficulties can be somewhat overcome by working within a very focused region, allowing new strategies for effective knowledge sharing to be generalized from the examples provided during the project, while still  seeing real, tangible results in the ecology of the region.

It’s only just beginning, so its difficult to say too much about it yet, but I think it’s an exciting project and I can’t wait to see what happens next. As well as more detail about the projects aims and approaches,  the LiloRann site has a lot of information, which will including updates as the project progresses and details about how potential sponsors and collaborators can get involved.

Oh, and some other projects that I worked on with Superflux are also under way – I’ll post more here about them as and when.

Daydreams: Rehearsing the future.

Recently I read a fascinating article called The Secret Life of the Brain in New Scientist.
By way of a brief overview, the article basically describes a ‘default state’ that our brain diverts to whenever we aren’t actively using it to solve problems or perform tasks etc. Scientists identified areas of the brain (see above) that commenced intense activity once volunteer test subjects were in an apparent state of rest.

This amazing organ, which accounts for only 2 per cent of  our body mass but devours 20 percent of the calories we eat, fritters away much of that energy doing, as far as we can tell, absolutely nothing.

“There is a huge amount of activity in the [resting] brain that has been largely unaccounted for.” Says Marcus Raichle… “The brain is a very expensive organ but no one has asked deeply what this cost is all about”.

Firstly it’s fascinating that the brain can use that much energy, or conduct processes that require that much energy, without our even realising that it’s happening, but maybe it’s fairly obvious when you think about it – if every process that our brain performed was intentional it would take forever to get anything done.

Surely if these secret neural processes are that ‘expensive’, they must be quite important?

through the hippocampus, the default network could tap into memories – the raw material of daydreams. The medial prefrontal cortex could then evaluate those memories from an introspective viewpoint. Raichle and Gulnard speculated that the default network might provide the brain with an “inner rehearsal” for considering future actions and choices.

I’ve read about this connection between memory and the future before in Future Recall: Your mind can slip through time (again in NS), an article which eventually lead to Memorascope,  which was a project about the effects that emotionally and memorially devoid ‘Non-Places’ (Auge) might have upon our ability to imagine the future, and whether or not it might be possible to use ‘prosthetics of memory’ (Landsberg, A.) to associate memories (prosthetic or otherwise) with these spaces. Primarily I was thinking about how these prosthetics of memory, and the prosthetic memories (Landsberg, A.) that they create, could be conciously used and manipulated.

So, if daydreaming is “the ultimate tool for incorporating lessons from our past into our plans for the future”, but is an unintentional thought process based on memories that are not necessarily our ‘own’ it would seem that we have very little control over what they might be. Does this in turn mean that we don’t have as much control our futures as we might think? But then, does the sheer volume of prosthetic memories made available through digital and communication technologies also mean that we have  more of the raw material required for imagining future possibilities to hand than ever before?

The question of how our technological encounters affect the creation, storage, recollection and dissemination of the materials that construct our memories, and the consequences that these technological prosthetics of memory have  upon our everyday experiences, is a recurring theme in my work and something that I consider important, but it would be good to go further than that, and maybe that’s where daydreams and The Secret Life of the Brain might come in; How do these things affect the rehearsal, or imagining, and potential realisation of our personal futures? Whats does it mean if they do? And what is the significance in the staggering amount of time and energy devoted to daydreams?

Anyway just some thoughts,  but I feel like there’s a lot of potential in daydreams as an area for design investigation, and at the very least, its an interesting article.