In the depths of Summerhall, the organisation ASCUS Art & Science has been developing the UK’s largest publicly accessible bioscience lab. This ambitious project poses an exciting opportunity for anyone to conduct their own experimental-based research in art and science. ASCUS Lab is the brainchild of Dr James Howie (ASCUS Director) and Lucy Stewart, which has come to life with the help of Miriam Walsh (Assistant Lab Manager) and enthusiastic volunteers from both scientific and artistic backgrounds, plus support from the Wellcome Trust.
Dr Howie founded ASCUS Art & Science in 2008 during his PhD at the School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh. Since then, ASCUS has become a well-respected organisation promoting communication and collaboration between the arts and sciences.
Summerhall is no stranger to bridging the gap between art and science; it is a space for art galleries and workshops, and a venue for the Edinburgh International Science Festival. It occupies buildings formerly used by the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. ASCUS has taken residence in a disused lab, which has been given a new lease of life and equipped with recycled bioscience appliances. However, unlike a conventional lab, artworks and easels are amongst the microscopes, centrifuges, and fume hoods.
Normally labs have restricted admittance, which makes scientific research seem elusive—unless you are a scientist. ASCUS is striving to change this by providing access, facilities, and support for scientists, artists and members of the public alike to engage with research in an innovative and ‘hands on’ manner. Here, anyone can become a member of the lab and conduct his or her own independent experimental research in art and science, which will be facilitated by the running of creative workshops and introductory courses in laboratory techniques. Scientists will have the freedom to communicate their research to a wider audience, whilst investigating alternative ideas that they’ve not had the opportunity to pursue elsewhere. Additionally, artists will have access to scientific equipment and inspiration to fuel their own projects. The intention is that the Lab will create a platform for numerous possibilities, whilst fundamentally ensuring a fun and creative space in which to experience artistic and scientific research.