Miles Donovan- Ulysses
super/collider have a mission - to combine science and art boldly, like no one has done before. For some, science and art are diametrically opposed notions, but super/collider sees the beauty and artistic symmetry in science (and vice versa). We caught up with them to talk about their stellar events line up, spreading the science word and their favourite species of the week.
Worlds in Transit project
The reconciliation of art and science is something which seems so natural when you think about it! How did the idea for this project come about?
The idea was born out of frustration that science is seen as this whole separate world. We saw science as art – a whole genre to be explored like you would with fashion, art, design or music. There were so many amazing projects, people and images out there that we really wanted to just start showing them all, so that's how super/collider started. We originally did it as just "let's do a nice-looking science magazine", but it's now grown into this nebulous ongoing project involving the website, one-off parties, printed publications, fieldtrips and special projects.
Your website is immaculately designed – how important are aesthetic values for this project?
Very. It's all about treating science like any another cultural source - picking the best images, curating the content, finding the one photograph that appeals when dozens of other ones just look boring. Science can compete with fashion and art, aesthetically, if you present it the right way.
What are your main tactics to get people interested in science? How important do you think it is to make science accessible for everyone?
It's amazing, most people are really into science – I'm constantly being asked about things I haven't even heard of – but I think it's maybe rarer that people consciously seek it out. That's one of the reasons I think it's really important to have science in the mix, alongside more popular stuff. It's not that people aren't interested, but if new projects, research, breakthroughs and ideas aren't put out there people won't be talking about them.
How do you avoid talking about important scientific issues without ‘dumbing down’ content?
It's really tough. We write a lot of articles for pop culture magazines, and it's hard to judge how much to leave out, and what to explain. You don't want to treat people like idiots, but then, a lot of the really interesting stuff does require a lot of detail. Like we're doing a piece right now about sucking CO2 from the atmosphere to make plastics and petrol, which is incredibly exciting when you think about it, but explaining the chemistry side of things might turn some people off – including me.
The Plant Journal
You have the final Science Fair event coming up at the Book Club - what can we expect?
We're ending with a look at the distant future – so not what the iPhone 7 might look like but what the earth with look like in the year 7000, that kind of thing. Beyond a geologist and a nuclear semiotician, we've got Aorta Burst Film Club showing clips from what movies think the future will be like, plus live music from beyond the ultrafuture. It should be a fitting end to the series, I think.
The mini-terrainiums and crystal growing events seem like very hands on experiences- do you want people to experience science physically/ to bring it to life?
Definitely, that was half the fun of science class, and I think people miss the chance to get messy and hands-on and just learn about awesome stuff. We're making a giant Mars surface playground for an event in October, the idea being people can come make future manned rovers and race them across the red, dusty plains. If you get down on your knees and squint it will be like being on Mars. Except the rovers will be made from toilet paper rolls.
Seana Gavin: cosmic worlds
How does the ‘Pop up Astronomy’ club combat the Great British weather (i.e. wet and cloudy)? How does this work when it comes to spreading the word about these sightings and events?
We've learned the hard way that organising astronomy events in the UK is a bit pointless. You get an expert lined up, pick a good night when lots of planets are up, then it rains. So the project is going to be much more casual and on-the-fly.. if there's something cool to see, and the sky is clear, and we don't have plans, we'll set up the telescope and tweet the details. Or text you if you're not on Twitter. We're hoping to spot Neptune for the first time in the coming weeks.
You’ve been active since 2006 - what, for you, is the most interesting scientific event which has happened in these recent years?
Watching the Large Hadron Collider being built, then switched on, then hunting down the Higgs boson has been amazing – it's one of these mega projects that you just feel privileged and excited to be alive when it's happening. Also following the adventures of the two previous Mars rovers was emotional, especially when one was left for dead, then watching the new one, Curiosity, starting its journey. It's still so weird to think that they're up there, right now, on another planet.
I like the feature ‘species of the week’ – do you have a favourite species?
At the moment it would have to be the noble Tapirus indicus aka the Malayan Tapir. My girlfriend and I became obsessed with them after watching a kids' show, and then recently we learned they avoid predators by walking along underwater in streams, using their mini elephant snouts like snorkels – what!
To find out more about events, projects and more go to www.super-collider.com/