Discover, collaborate and revisit your academic practice through culture

Dr Barbara Bravi is a post-doctoral researcher in statistical mechanics and mathematical biology at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne. She completed her PhD at King’s College London last year and, while studying, applied to the Innovation for Early Career Researchers Scheme. As part of the scheme she collaborated with one of the university’s cultural partners to produce a mobile app. Barbara then went onto become a Cultural Knowledge Exchange Associate at King’s. In this blog Barbara reflects on how and why she engaged with culture at the university.

Getting involved with King’s College London’s Cultural Institute was simply a great experience: the Cultural Institute is space for innovation and the mutual exchange of ideas across the university and the cultural sector. While focused on culture, it gave me the chance to grow, both as a scientist and as a person.

My first contact with cultural activity at the university came when I was awarded support to develop a cultural collaboration through the King’s Early Career Researchers scheme. Working with Design Science, NETADIS and other researchers, we created Random walks with pirate and parrot, an educational mobile app to help a young audience understand how mathematicians and physicists build models of the real world. Such experience was not only intellectually rewarding but, as I soon appreciated, the project had the potential to inform my academic practice.

Creating an artwork out of my research, through a collaboration with a cultural partner, made me simplify the language I use to communicate as well as changing my whole way of thinking. The need to express complex notions via graphics, rather than equations, and to appeal to the players’ intuition, rather than using technical jargon, shed new light on my ideas and made me find new ways to communicate my research.

Later, I had the honour to be recruited to the Cultural Knowledge Exchange Associate Network at King’s. Within this role, I followed the organisation of outreach projects, exhibitions, performances and alike. It turned out to be an opportunity of intense learning.

I learned how the synergy between computer algorithms and piano players can shape unprecedented Soundscapes, I reflected upon the recent ‘big data’ explosion and how it can be explored through an interactive art installation. I discovered more about the properties of colour and light with glass artworks explained by a physicist. During an exhibition I found out about the ‘utopian’ features of non-equilibrium phenomena and tissue engineering.

Furthermore, supporting the promotion of these events helped me establish a stronger connection with the protagonists of ‘culture’ – from art to science and technology – at King’s and more generally in London. Through this, I acquired an expertise important for my future. Representing the Cultural Institute and its interdisciplinary, collaborative spirit led me to build a new awareness of my academic profile and to revisit it under a new perspective.

Being a Knowledge Exchange Associate was also personally challenging because we constantly tried to answer the questions: what is ‘culture’ for King’s students and staff? How can we improve their experience of culture? Working with people who are extremely committed to this effort of building bridges between academia and the ‘cultural’ world was personally motivating as well.

Last but not least, working with the Cultural Institute team was fun: the discovery and contamination of practices were such an amusing yet constructive way of complementing my duties as a researcher at King’s. I am enormously grateful for this enriching, beneficial experience.

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