Category Archives: Uncategorized

Textiles, Colour & Culture

You may want to check out another blog I recently started which focuses on textiles, colour and culture. It is called “Inside My Mother’s Closet, as I was inspired after I raided my mother’s closet and her African textiles. Here is the link:

Crossing the Line: Paintings by Steve Miller

As a biochemistry graduate I spent lots of time learning about ion channels – after all they regulate so much of the chemistry in our body. So, I’m excited to see Steve Miller’s current art exhibition, “Crossing the Line” at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC. Now I’ve relocated from Boston, MA to the DC Metro area this feels like a great way taster for me to check out what’s going on.

Roam Free is one of the paintings that artist Steve Miller

Roam Free (Steve Miller)

Steve Miller’s exhibition is based on the work of Nobel Prize scientist Rod MacKinnon, who specializes in neurobiology carried out ground breaking work in membrane ion channels. Miller’s paintings “juxtapose photographic, drawn, and silk-screened images with excerpts from MacKinnon’s notebooks, Miller’s work dissolves conventional distinctions between text and image to explore what distinguishes art from science.”

The free exhibition is currently on and will continue to run until Jan. 13, 2014. I can’t wait to check it out!

Booming Demand (2012) was made using dispersion and silkscreen enamel on canvas.

Booming Demand (2012) was made using dispersion and silkscreen enamel on canvas (Steve Miller)

Quick update on direction of blog

If you don’t know already I really like the intersection of art, science, culture and fashion. I like modern-day twists as well as historical links. I’m often found sharing tweets on these kinds of topics. Anyway, it is about time I shared more of my interests on this blog, after all it’s why I started it!

So my blog will start taking a different shape (hopefully one that means it’ll be updated more regularly) as I will share things I like in short posts. I will still continue to do long pieces on things that are “one my mind” but as you know I’m pretty rubbish at posting these regularly.

Min x

My interview with Speaking of Science

Once again it has been ages since I posted something on here – sorry (slap wrists). I do have a few things on my mind that I will soon write about so stay tuned.

In the meantime I wanted to share this quick interview I did with Julie Gould and her “Speaking of Science” webseries that asks the “who, what, where, when and why of science communication”.

Cracking the Code

I am super excited about the airing of the BBC Learning show I presented, “Cracking the Code”. If you missed it earlier today you can now catch it on BBC  iPlayer.

Getting into car at Silverstone

I really enjoyed working on the show, the crew and kids were great and the stories were excellent. Coding is so creative and it is a fantastic skill for not only children but for adults to learn too. As you’ll see in the show, we cover a range of cool topics that all rely on coding. My favourite was probably the Raspberry Pi as got to be more hands-on with that activity and the images that arrive on our screen are priceless.

By the Tardis at BBC Television Centre

By the Tardis at BBC Television Centre

Here is a promo clip for all of you!

Science and Hip-Hop

I think it is true to say hip-hop culture is very much integrated and part of today’s youth culture, not just in America but also in Britain and many countries throughout the world. As I was growing up, hip-hop was definitely alive and thus I consider myself a product of the hip-hop generation, and today it still influences aspects of my life, including my style and music.

Graffiti Art by Marcin Bartkowiak

Graffiti Art by Marcin Bartkowiak

So, what is hip-hop? Some may think hip-hop is rap music that casts a heroic light on gangster living and sexism. I would guess the people who do have this limited view of hip-hop probably haven’t listened to much rap music, and have somewhat taken the media’s portrayal at face value. But hip-hop is much more than rap. It encompasses breakdancing, beatboxing, graffitti, djing (and all the cool scratching they do alongside), and MCing (which is now synonymous with the rapper).

Taken from BBC website

Taken from BBC website

Hip-hop has infiltrated so much of today’s culture that it is no longer specific to one demographic. All ethnicities, sexes, and income brackets, are influenced – I’ve known and seen enough posh white boys djing in “urban” clubs and doing graffiti art.

Anyway, this blog post isn’t solely about hip-hop, it is also about science and how hip-hop can be used as a communication tool within science engagement. As someone who communicates science and is a promoter of STEM education, I constantly hear about the lack of diversity in science and how one needs to reach inner city kids and ethnic minorities. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought too and during one bout of internet research on this subject I came across Dr Christopher Emdin’s research (below is one of his videos). Although his work is in urban/inner city areas in the States, I think his strategy could also work in the UK and I don’t think it needs to be limited to only people in inner cities. A good video which explains some of his ideas clearly is here and if that isn’t enough and you want to explore his work deeper then read his book, Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation. I am looking forward to reading his book but in the meantime the videos and articles have given me lots to think about. I believe there are many opportunities to get creative in how we use hip-hop to engage communities in science. Before I move on, I do want to add a caveat and that is I don’t believe one shoe fits all and I still think there is definitely a place for great storytelling, demo-based science outreach,  and the other great work I see taking place. However, we have identified a group of people aren’t being engaged and I think this may be one way to break the barriers and reach them.

One point I want to highlight from his talk is that hip-hop education isn’t about listening to a science-based rap. It is about embracing a culture. I love the example he gives about the schools. One teacher had it all wrong when she attempted to embrace the culture and engage the students in science by getting them to passively listen to some cheesy english science-rap. I too think an attempt like that would meet neither objective. You see, hip-hop culture goes deeper than a superficial rap about atoms and reactions. I’ve heard a few science raps within the European science communication arena and I’m yet to be impressed. Most of the time I never know whether to laugh or cringe. I hate to point fingers but let’s take the example of the CERN rap. I feel it mocks hip-hop culture; maybe that was the point – to make a funny science communication video??? But if that was the point and the hip-hop culture and science are seen as mutually exclusive, then they may actually be doing more harm than good, by yet again reinforcing a stereotype…hmmm, I’ll ponder that thought another time.

In the meantime let’s think more about what communicators of science can try to do (and I’m using the term communicators as I think these ideas can be used by more than just science educators – people working in outreach and the media wouldn’t do themselves any harm in switching things up a bit).

  • One big thing in hip-hop is the battle – be it a rap, dance, or dj battle – they are various art forms of an argument. In a rap battle you are using creative lyrics to form an entertaining, succinct and persuasive argument. Well, this isn’t too dissimilar to the scientific process – scientists have to write clear, precise narratives which are also persuasive when they share their research in publications. People may not think too much about the scientific process but the way scientists present their research is an argument and the finesse in which they execute it determines whether or not it will be published and to what success.
  • Both hip-hop and science rely on feedback and positive reinforcement to build up their arguments. In a hip-hop battle it may be a little bit more immediate as the crowd boos or cheers, forcing you to go back to the drawing board, gain more knowledge, perfect your skill and come out blazing. Science uses peer review, a system set up to determine whether the work is credible and ensures high standards by requesting further work or improvements to work if it is deemed necessary before publication.
  • Science and hip-hop use references to support their work, this may be sampling music, quoting people and making cultural references in hip-hop, while in science these references are usually peppered within a publication.
  • Lastly, both science and hip-hop rely on creativity and improvisation. These two things may not seem obvious in science but the ‘experiment’ encompasses both these things – scientists have to think and design new experiments to test theories and as they follow down the path of their project their experiments are constantly evolving depending on results. Like all novel work, there is no handbook telling them what comes next.

These four examples are all ways hip-hop culture is similar to the scientific process – I’m not saying these similarities are only seen between science and hip-hop as they’re not. I’m saying, some hard to reach kids may benefit from knowing that there are similarities between their everyday interests and science – they have something relatable.

When thinking about hip-hop culture within science communication, there are several angles in which the idea can be approached. It doesn’t have to be a direct comparison like above. Instead it could be the way you infiltrate the culture into your message.

Pateneted by Alexander Parkes,  Parkesine is the trademark for the first man-made plastic. Photo taken from the Walls Have Ears website.

Patented by Alexander Parkes, Parkesine is the trademark for the first man-made plastic. Photo taken from the Walls Have Ears website.

I would consider the recent The Walls Have Ears project in Hackney Wick, an example of this. Hackney Wick is one of the poorer areas in London and has been undergoing lots of regeneration. This ethnically diverse area of East London also embraces street art/graffiti (which has become more legalized) within its community. The street art helps bring life into deprived areas and the colour livens up the grey walls so people take note. The Walls Have Ears project produced a number of wall paintings celebrating Hackney’s heritage (see images to the right, below and here) and since much of it is related to science, it inadvertently did great a bit of science outreach within a community that has a high proportion of immigrants who are possibly unaware of the science heritage. While also staying true to the community’s culture of street art.

Meldola's Blue dye was invented by British chemist Raphael Meldola. Photo taken from the Walls Have Ears website.

Meldola’s Blue dye was invented by British chemist Raphael Meldola. Photo taken from the Walls Have Ears website.

Children from the community were involved in creating the pieces and although I confess I don’t know how much they were told about their science heritage, I’d like to think they were told enough to make them feel proud of the heritage and spark interest in the subject.

As I reach the end of this post, I have but one more person to mention and that is Wu-Tang Clan’s GZA. I admire how he has immersed himself in science (and how the scientific community at MIT and Harvard have embraced him) in a journey he is taking to acquire knowledge and strengthen his writing for a forthcoming album. When listening to his interview with Dr Neil DeGrasse Tyson (below) a lot of what he says resonates – in order for rappers to be more creative and better lyricists they need to be interested in the world around them.

As people say, knowledge is power and if you want to know more about the world around you then you can’t go wrong by learning more about science. Maybe this is good food for thought for all the young wannabe rappers at school currently flunking their science GCSE.

Africa’s High Fashion Fractals

I love bright, bold colours. You see this in the clothes I wear, the accessories I buy (from scarves to my tablet case), and decoration in my apartment – basically  everything and anything I can make “pop” with colour, I will! I’m also a  big fan of impressionist art, one reason being the vast array of colours the artists used – shout out to the colour chemists who made it possible. It was the rise of synthetic pigments that allowed for the varied colour palette of the impressionists. As well as the impressionist art, I find myself drawn to geometric art and in fact gravitated towards that art form when I took GCSE art textiles (many moons ago).

Bright, varied colours and geometric patterns are found everywhere in African textiles and maybe it is because of my Nigerian heritage I find myself drawn to all these things. I also have a mum who is an African artist and used to keep me out of mischief by teaching me how to do Adire eleko, a form of batik (both free-hand and with thin stencils).

Cat Deeley rocking a Diane von Furstenberg dress. (Mathieu Young/Fox/PictureGroup)

Cat Deeley rocking a Diane von Furstenberg dress. (Mathieu Young/Fox/PictureGroup)

Being a fan of African textiles I’m glad to see African-inspired textiles (and no I’m not talking about the tiger print, safari style textiles!) crossing over into the Western fashion mainstream with real success. Since 2011, it seems everyone has been rocking these bright, bold wax-prints. I even got a goody bag from a science conference which used textiles from West Africa.

Moschino Spring Collection 2013

Moschino Spring Collection 2013

As someone who loves exploring the science all around us you can probably imagine how excited I was when I stumbled upon a talk a few years ago by mathematician Ron Eglash who spent time in Africa where he discovered fractals were used throughout – from arts and crafts to town planning.

Yes, you can learn math  by studying African textiles – fancy that! It seems many African textiles demonstrate fractals – geometric patterns repeated as smaller and smaller versions of themselves (or simply, a small section of a design will look like the whole thing).

Fractals in a piece of African textile

Fractals in a piece of African textile from Ron Eglash’s book, “African Fractals: modern computing and indigenous design”

This is known as self-similarity and when you zoom really close into the design or object it will look exactly the same as it does from a distance! This phenomenon is very much present in nature – think broccoli, lightning, mountains, clouds…the list is endless.

Fractals easy to see in this broccoli

Fractals are easy to see in this Romanesco broccoli

Even though fractals were around much earlier than the 20th century, it wasn’t until 1975 that the term “fractal” was coined. Polish-born French mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot first used the term (derived from the latin “fractus”, meaning irregular or fragmented). Known as the founding father of fractals you can now find his designs as computer screen savers…you probably recognize the one below.

A Mandelbrot Fractal

A Mandelbrot Fractal often found as a screen saver. Fractals play a greater role in computer programming than creating screen savers. Computer algorithms can be developed to model shapes in nature

So how are fractals formed? A common way to create a fractal is by using initiators and generators. For ease I’ll explain using the famous Koch curve.

Generation of Koch Curve

Generation of a Koch Curve

If we start with a line (initiator), we can move the middle of the line up so it peaks and creates an equilateral triangle (this is now the generator). We then use the lines on this new equilateral triangle to generate more and more triangles. This process can be repeated in an infinite loop.

I’m new to the area of fractals and there are more categories and more complexity than I have described so far (more info. here).

However, I can’t finish this piece without mentioning the coastline paradox (we thank British scientist Lewis Fry Richardson for this mind-boggling observation). Just like lots of things in nature coastlines are fractals and Richardson observed that the length of the coastline depended on the measuring tool used – the smaller the measuring tool, the larger the coastline. This is because the small tool can get into all the nooks and crannies which a larger tool couldn’t. If you also think about it something like a piece of string would also measure the coastline longer than if you were to use a meter ruler because it is flexible enough to fit between rough rocks. To think the coast of Britain can be infinitely long is crazy!

An easy to follow video about fractal maths is here.

With all this talk I wonder who’ll be rocking the fractals during London Fashion Week, which may I add is just around the corner…eek, I can’t wait!