Thursday, 26 April 2012

Innogen brings social science perspective to EISF

Innogen was able to bring its unique social science perspective to this year’s Edinburgh International Science Festival (EISF), with its scholars leading and participating in both provocative and timely discussions on issues ranging from synthetic biology to the ethical issues of biofuels to where the trajectory of Scottish science over the next 20 years.

The EISF was founded in 1989 as the world’s first celebration of science and technology. The festival has become a prestigious and popular space for communicating the excitement and benefits of science and innovation, bringing together academics, professionals and the general public.

As part of the festivities, Innogen social scientist Jane Calvert, biologist Alistair Elfick and artist Daisy Ginsberg joined science fiction author Ken McLeod for a unique session titled, “Creating with Creation.” Drawing from the widely acclaimed Synthetic Aesthetics project, the group tackled head on the provocative issue of synthetic biology and how biology is becoming a new material for engineering. Together, they also explored the fascinating new territory between synthetic biology, art and design.

Continuing the discussions around synthetic biology, Calvert and Elfick also participated in a highly successful and sold out screening of the classic 1931 version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Director James Whale’s stark and eerie take on this famed story of humanity, science and creation provided the perfect cinematic backdrop for Elfick and Calvert’s subsequent discussion on synthetic biology, the fear of humans playing God and the moral responsibilities of science.

Conversations surrounding Scotland’s future are a hot topic at the moment, and Joyce Tait joined a notable armchair discussion titled, “Scotland 2030: What’s Next for Scottish Science.” Chaired by BBC Scotland presenter Ken MacDonald, the panel also included Andy Kerry (Director of the Edinburgh Centre on Climate Change), Ian Ritchie (Scottish Business Angel). Tait focused her discussion on the areas where Scotland is strong in life sciences, including regenerative medicine therapies, synthetic biology and industrial biotechnology. However, she was cautious of predicting to 2030 as strengths are continuously evolving.

The event was devoted to a lively conversation with the speakers and the audience, and Tait noted that the issues that came to the fore of the discussions were around Scotland’s ability to cope with the health problems of an ageing population, as well as the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

At the event “Biofuels: An Ethical Solution?” Tait joined a panel discussion chaired by David Castle which focused on the Nuffield Council’s report from last year “Biofuels: Ethical Issues.” Tait focused her presentation on the five main ethical principles that the report identified, as well as the sixth requirement to develop biofuels as a contribution to climate change mitigation and how it could be done while complying with the ethical principles.

Other speakers included Prof Claire Halpin from the James Hutton Institute who talked about the science of biofuels and future directions, as well as Dr Andy Kerr from the Edinburgh Centre on Climate Change who presented on the role of biofuels and biofuel policies in climate change mitigation.

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