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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Material Imagination - Symposium: Living innovation: interdisciplinary approaches to research on living materials

22nd January 2020, 09:00 to 23rd January 2020, 17:00, Lindisfarne Centre, St Aidan’s College, Durham University

The concept of “living materials” rests on recent ideas to combine living cells with non-living components, to exploit the sensory, secretory and motility apparatus of cells for advanced material functionality. This nascent technology has the potential to impact on our use of materials and relationship with them, raising the question of how to align its development to real societal priorities. Responsible Research and Innovation is an approach that aims to involve relevant stakeholders in anticipating, reflecting and acting upon the direction and trajectory of the research process itself. However, methodologies of public engagement in innovation have been criticized for over-relying on verbal reasoning for acquiring and transmitting knowledge; new methodologies that enhance the non-cognitive aspects of imagination are needed to ensure broader inclusion. In this symposium we want to explore alternative methodologies that combine design, art and public involvement in guiding research and innovation on living materials.

The aim of this project is to investigate whether it is possible to apply a specific approach to ‘open innovation’ – participatory design - in research on living materials by engaging a variety of stakeholders in their co-creation and in shaping their future applications. It does so by combining a collaborative physics project on fusing living bacteria with artificial membranes, science and technology studies’ work on Responsible Research and Innovation and public engagement, and insights from arts and humanities on creativity and public engagement.

This two day symposium will explore alternative, more encompassing methodologies for public engagement that draw on the imagination and relevant experience of the stakeholders by combining research on living materials with participatory design and art. The point of departure is that two-way relationships between living materials and art/design, design and stakeholder participation, and science and public participation are already emerging and can successfully be brought tougher for a wider participation in science.

Opening session:

1. Professor Veronica Strang (Durham University, IAS): Executive Director

2. Professor Colin Bain (Durham University): Vice Provost (Research), RRI and SOFI CDT

3. Professor Tom McLeish (University of York): Imagination in art and sciences

Thematic Sessions: Visiting IAS Fellows involved in this project will be session Chairs.

1. Living Materials: Design/Art

Explores recent approaches and experiences in using the modes of reasoning and the techniques of design and art to create new materials and systems. Notable examples are the new fields of bio-design and bio-architecture.

Chairs: IAS Fellow Professor Wilson Poon (University of Edinburgh) and Dr Laura Forlano (Illinois Institute of Technology)

1. Professor Jamie Davies (University of Edinburgh), Biology

2. Professor Martyn Dade Robertson (Newcastle University), Architecture

3. Professor Jane Calvert (University of Edinburgh), Social Science

4. Dominique Peysson ( ENSAD- Paris), Visual art

5. Alex Carr, IAS Fellow, Independent Artist

2. Living materials: Public engagement

Explores methods and concepts that are used in involving communities and stakeholders to participate in the development of emerging technologies, such as synthetic biology and nanotechnology.

Chairs: IAS Fellow Professor Torben Elgaard Jensen (Aalborg University) and Dr Suzie Protiere (Université Pierre et Marie Curie)

1. Professor Matthew Kearnes (University of New South Wales), Social Science

2. Professor Richard Jones (University of Sheffield), Physics

3. OpenCell founders (

4. Andy Lloyd (Newcastle Centre for Life)

5. Professor Alex Lips (University of Edinburgh), Research industry perspective

6. Professor David Guston (Arizona State University, Centre for the Future of Innovation, USA)

3. Design: Public participation

Explores how design methodologies have been used to involve lay users and communities in the design of new applications and materials.

Chairs: IAS Fellow Dr Laura Forlano (Illinois Institute of Technology) and Alex Carr

1. Dr Imane Baiz (University Paris Descartes- Doing it together)

2. Dr Laura Forlano (Illinois Institute of Technology), Design

3. Professor Thomas Binder (Danish School of Design), founder of participatory design

4. Dr Alex Wilkie (Goldsmith’s, University of London), Design

5. Dr Bas Overvelde (AMOLF)

6. Dr Denisa Kera (University of Salamanca)

Speakers are provisional only, and will be confirmed on the IAS website. Please do review regularly for final details.

For additional information about this project please contact:
Professor Tiago Moreira ( and Dr Margarita Staykova, (

Contact; for more information about this event.