Tag Archives: Science Gallery

Fish and Chips: Singapore style and Australia style

A*STAR’s Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN), located in Singapore, has announced a new platform for testing drug applications. From the April 4, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

A cheaper, faster and more efficient platform for preclinical drug discovery applications has been invented by scientists at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN), the world’s first bioengineering and nanotechnology research institute. Called ‘Fish and Chips’, the novel multi-channel microfluidic perfusion platform can grow and monitor the development of various tissues and organs inside zebrafish embryos for drug toxicity testing. This research, published recently in Lab on a Chip (“Fish and Chips: a microfluidic perfusion platform for monitoring zebrafish development”) …

From the IBN April 4, 2012 media release,

The conventional way of visualizing tissues and organs in embryos is a laborious process, which includes first mounting the embryos in a viscous medium such as gel, and then manually orienting the embryos using fine needles. The embryos also need to be anesthetized to restrict their motion and a drop of saline needs to be continuously applied to prevent the embryos from drying. These additional precautions could further complicate the drug testing results.

The IBN ‘Fish and Chips’ has been designed for dynamic long-term culturing and live imaging of the zebrafish embryos. The microfluidic platform comprises three parts: 1) a row of eight fish tanks, in which the embryos are placed and covered with an oxygen permeable membrane, 2) a fluidic concentration gradient generator to dispense the growth medium and drugs, and 3) eight output channels for the removal of the waste products (see Image 2). The novelty of the ‘Fish and Chips’ lies in its unique diagonal flow architecture, which allows the embryos to be continually submerged in a uniform and consistent flow of growth medium and drugs (…), and the attached gradient generator, which can dispense different concentrations of drugs to eight different embryos at the same time for dose-dependent drug studies.

Professor Hanry Yu, IBN Group Leader, who led the research efforts at IBN, said, “Toxicity is a major cause of drug failures in clinical trials and our novel ‘Fish and Chips’ device can be used as the first step in drug screening during the preclinical phase to complement existing animal models and improve toxicity testing. The design of our platform can also be modified to accommodate more zebrafish embryos, as well as the embryos of other animal models. Our next step will involve investigating cardiotoxicity and hepatoxicity on the chip.”

As a pragmatist I realize that, to date, we have no substitute for testing drugs on animals prior to clinical human trials so this ‘type of platform’ is necessary but it always gives me pause. Just as the relationship between human and animals did the first time I came across a ‘Fish and Chips’ project in the context of a performance at the 2001 Ars Electronica event in Linz, Austria. As I recall Fish and Chips was made up fish neurons grown on silicon chips then hooked up to hardware and software to create a performance both visual and auditory.

Here’s an image of the 2001 Fish and Chips performance at Ars Electronica,

Ars Electronica Festival 2001: Fish & Chips / SymbioticA Research Group, Oron Catts, Ionat Zurr, Guy Ben-Ary

You can find a full size version of the image here on Flickr along with the Creative Commons Licence.

The Fish and Chips performance was developed at SymbioticA (University of Western Australia). From SymbioticA’s Research page,

SymbioticA is a research facility dedicated to artistic inquiry into knowledge and technology in the life sciences.

Our research embodies:

  • identifying and developing new materials and subjects for artistic manipulation
  • researching strategies and implications of presenting living-art in different contexts
  • developing technologies and protocols as artistic tool kits.

Having access to scientific laboratories and tools, SymbioticA is in a unique position to offer these resources for artistic research. Therefore, SymbioticA encourages and favours research projects that involve hands on development of technical skills and the use of scientific tools.

The research undertaken at SymbioticA is speculative in nature. SymbioticA strives to support non-utilitarian, curiosity based and philosophically motivated research.

They list six research areas:

  • Art and biology
  • Art and ecology
  • Bioethics
  • Neuroscience
  • Tissue engineering
  • Sleep science

SymbioticA’s Fish and Chips project has since been retitled MEART, from the SymbioticA Research Group (SARG) page,

Meart – The semi-living artist

The project was originally entitled Fish and Chips and later evolved into MEART – the semi living artist. The project is by the SymbioticA Research group in collaboration with the Potter Lab.

The Potter Lab or Potter Group is located at the Georgia (US) Institute of Technology. Here’s some more information about MEART from the  Potter Group MEART page,

The Semi living artist

Its ‘brain’ of dissociated rat neurons is cultured on an MEA in our lab in Atlanta while the geographically detached ‘body’ lives in Perth. The body itself is a set of pneumatically actuated robotic arms moving pens on a piece of paper …

A camera located above the workspace captures the progress of drawings created by the neurally-controlled movement of the arms. The visual data then instructed stimulation frequencies for the 60 electrodes on the MEA.

The brain and body talk through the internet over TCP/IP in real time providing closed loop communication for a neurally controlled ‘semi-living artist’. We see this as a medium from which to address various scientific, philosophical, and artistic questions.

Getting back to SymbioticA, my most recent mention of them was in a Dec. 28, 2011 posting about Boo Chapple’s (resident at SymbioticA) Transjuicer installation at Dublin’s Science Gallery (I’ve excerpted a portion of an interview with Chapple where she describes what she’s doing),

I’m not sure that Transjuicer is so much about science as it is about belief, the economy of human-animal relations, and the politics of material transformation.

On that note I leave you with these fish and chips (from the Wikipedia essay about the menu item Fish and Chips),

Cod and chips in Horseshoe Bay, B.C., Canada, December 2010. Credit: Robin Miller

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones

Making sounds with bones—but not as you might imagine.

Image from slideshow of Transjuicer exhibit in Science Gallery, Dublin, 2011 and John Curtin Gallery, Perth 2010

Christopher Mims in his Dec. 27, 2011 (?) article for Fast Company explains what artist Boo Chapple is doing with her Transjuicer installation of speakers made from bone tissue,

Turned on its head, bone’s response to physical stress can be used to produce music—or at least musical tones. That’s what artist Boo Chapple discovered during the course of a year-long collaboration at the University of Western Australia’s SymbioticA lab, the only research facility in the world devoted to providing access to wet labs to artists and artistically minded researchers.

When Chapple began this project, she knew that extensive scientific literature suggested bone had what are known as piezoelectric properties. Basically, when a piezoelectric material is bent, compressed, or otherwise physically stressed, it generates an electric charge. Conversely, applying an electric charge to a piezoelectric material can change its shape. This has made piezoelectrics the backbone of countless environmental sensors and tiny actuators.

Poring through this literature, Chapple realized that applying a current to bone at just the right frequency should make it vibrate like the diaphragm in an audio speaker. And because bone retains its piezoelectric properties even when it’s no longer living, it should be fairly straightforward to transform any old bone into the world’s most outre audio component.

Because Chapple is an artist and not a technologist, her goal wasn’t to pursue this technique until it yielded a new product. Rather, the point was to accomplish what all good art can: “making strange” otherwise familiar objects.

I first heard about the SymbioticA lab when they showed their Fish & Chips project (the report I’ve linked to is undated) at the 2001 Ars Electronic annual event in Linz, Austria. I never did get to see the performance (fish neurons grown on silicon chips and hooked up to software and musical instruments) but their work remains a source of great interest to me. (I last mentioned SymbioticA in my July 5, 2011 posting where they were scheduled for the same session that I was, at the 2011 ISEA conference in Istanbul.)

Here’s a bit more about the SymbioticA lab at the University of Western Australia (from their home page),

SymbioticA is a research facility dedicated to artistic inquiry into knowledge and technology in the life sciences.

Our research embodies:

  • identifying and developing new materials and subjects for artistic manipulation
  • researching strategies and implications of presenting living-art in different contexts
  • developing technologies and protocols as artistic tool kits.

Having access to scientific laboratories and tools, SymbioticA is in a unique position to offer these resources for artistic research. Therefore, SymbioticA encourages and favours research projects that involve hands on development of technical skills and the use of scientific tools.

The research undertaken at SymbioticA is speculative in nature. SymbioticA strives to support non-utilitarian, curiosity based and philosophically motivated research.

Boo Chapple, a resident at the SymbioticA Lab, had this to say about her installation, Transjuicer, and science when it was at Dublin’s Science Gallery (excerpted from the Visceral Interview),

Do you think that work like yours helps to open up science to public discussion and debate; and does this interest you?

I’m not sure that Transjuicer is so much about science as it is about belief, the economy of human-animal relations, and the politics of material transformation. These are all things that are inherent to the practice of science but perhaps not what one might think of when one thinks of public debate around particular scientific discoveries, or technologies.

While I am interested in the philosophical parameters of these debates, I do not see my art practice as an instrument of communication in this respect, nor is Transjuicer engaged with any hot topics of the moment, or designed in such a way as to reveal the technical processes that were employed in making the bone audio speakers.

The work being done at the SymbioticA lab is provocative in the best sense, i.e., meant to provoke thought and discussion.

Dublin’s beautiful elements

Trinity College’s Science Gallery launched an exhibit celebrating the Periodic Table of Elements and the International Year of Chemistry, Elements, on July 15, 2011. The exhibit will be open until September 23, 2011.

GrrlScientist in her August 8, 2011 posting on the Guardian science blogs waxes rhapsodic about the exhibit [ETA Aug. 12, 2011: This is not a review of the exhibit. GrrlScientist notes elsewhere in her post that she has not yet been able to view it. Thank you to Michael Flynn for emphasizing that point. I should have been clearer about it.],

What does an invisible (lead) man, a (dead) man and a revigitator [sic] have in common? POISON? No … They all make an appearance at the hot new ‘Elements’ exhibition that’s on right now at Trinity College Dublin’s Science Gallery in Ireland!

One thing that I especially love about this exhibition (from just watching the videos) is the crowd-sourced periodic table, which the Gallery is building now.

You can see what she means,

I last mentioned Dublin in my April 29, 2011 posting about the city’s upcoming status as Europe’s City of Science 2012 and its self-organized celebration, Dublin City of Science 2012.