Joanna Hopkins August 2015

With the help of scientist Catalina Vallejo in the CURAM lab, I have been able to access primary neuron cells. After growing them in a dish for a number of days, I will be doing a live cell imaging with as special Microscope over in the Anatomy department. The aim is to gather a sequence of time lapse images of the neurons making connections, and to turn this into a short video. A special microscope with a temperature controlled chamber attached is needed to keep the cells alive. Peter Owens in the Centre for Microscopy and Imaging, has been instructive in trying to get the best images we can.

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As I’ve learned since spending time in a research lab, no process is simple and there has been a lot of actions required for what I was hoping to be a simple enough procedure! The current cells are also the second batch I have accessed, before having the idea of what I want to do. It may even take a third go to get it right. With the assistance of scientist Eugenia Pugliese, I at least started to feel like a mini scientist as she patiently instructed me how to prepare multiple dishes for cell culture.

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Neurons Connecting

I also have had an informative chat with Dave Finn, head of the Neuroscience Department in NUIG. Dave told me in very accessible terms more about the regions of Pain and Memory in the brain. My general area of interest is in the brain, and specifically, the idea of empathy, where this is activated in the brain, causes and effects of it, and the potential lack of it.

Joanna Hopkins July 2015

The past few weeks at the CÚRAM lab have been spent exploring a wonderful material called PLGA and PCL. Postgraduate researcher, Kyriakos uses the material as a scaffolding for his experiments for lining collagen in the body. Kyriakos has also been helping me in making large sheets of the very delicate material to see how large we can go with the stuff. Its time consuming to make; very small tubes of the liquid are hooked up to a voltage machine and using a very small syringe, are shot out onto a waiting surface. So far it’s taking about 6 hours plus to get an A4 size sheet of Material. I’m hoping to use the material as a sheet to project a video or light onto.

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PGLA Detail

I also shadowed Catalina who is working in an area looking at Parkinsons disease. I have been researching a little more about Parkinsons, and have learned that it is referred to as a ‘movement’ disease. Catalina allowed me to observe her as she undertook the delicate process of abstracting primary neuron cells from a rat embryo. The process was meticulous and tiny and involved minute scissors and an incredibly steady hand. I hope to explore more in learning about Parkinsons disease and the process the scientists here at CÚRAM are using to treat it.

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Catalina abstracting primary neuron cells

As part of our residency, we have been just recently situated in a beautiful building on University Road to use as a studio. This has been a useful base to explore and make work as it is based quite close to the labs, allowing time to research the scientists work and then come back to the studio to reflect, research and create.

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PLGA Sheets

Joanna Hopkins May 28th 2015

The Chimera Art and Science Residency at CURAM has begun with a wallop and a bang into the mesmerizing and confusing world of cells, stem cells, neurons, polymers, hydro gels and intricate and colourful microscopic images of unfathomable galaxies of the inner body. These un-seeable blobs look nearer to images of far off galaxies then all the little things that make up our living, breathing selves.

This first month of the residency required adjusting to a new language as we met with nearly forty scientists and learned about their research and current projects. The words and terms that were used to describe the scientist’s research are all new to me, and I felt bamboozled and confumbled and kerflustered and shandazzled by so many new complex sentences.

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Testing With Polymers

So the first month has resulted in a lot of hastily written notes and terms dotted throughout my sketchbook. But I also wrote down the ways in which the scientist use the most appealing and humanistic terms to describe the work they do with cells. I have become fascinated by this terminology of how they apply human characteristics and phrases to these tiny atoms and neurons and cells.

‘‘Make the Cells feel like they are at home…’

‘They (cells) try to save us…’

‘Allow them to figure out what they want to be…’

‘You don’t know what the cells are thinking…’

I’ve been sitting at our assigned lab desk in the gloriously termed ‘Biohazard Area’ watching the comings and goings of all those at work, and looking over my notes with a wandering eye. My original proposal for this residency was to explore with the aid of the scientists and the research work at CURAM, the idea that human empathy may be decreasing as our dependency and use of personal digital technology advances so rapidly.

So far, one groups research into Parkinsons disease and that they are working on here has fascinated me. Utilising microscopic research they are developing tiny implantable batteries that will try to bring down the swelling in the brains of those suffering from the disease, which in turns helps reduce its symptoms. The device works with the electrical signals that already exist in the brain. This merging of brain function and electricity and technology is what interests me a lot. At this stage of the residency I am interested in continuing research into the Parkinsons disease, and how the brain functions, including looking at neurons and synapses.


Siobhan McGibbons Wednesday 23rd April

Induction day

Induction Day
Induction Day

The morning started out with an informal meet and greet between fellow artist in residency Joanna Hopkins and Chimera arts and science curator Andrea Fitzpatrick, of whom I had the pleasure of working with before in a previous Chimera exhibition.

Shortly after armed with pen and paper and clad in laboratory coats we embarked on an intensive induction to health and safety in the laboratories where we discussed the various chemical and physical hazards we will encounter on a daily basis and safe working practice in the labs.

We were assigned desks in the laboratory for medical and biological investigations and creations, which we have access to from Monday- Friday between the hours of 9-5. Hot desks are also available for research, admin, drawing and digital practice and we have also have access to the NUIG library.

Safety First
Safety Warnings

Andrea allocated a mentor for each of us who’s research is relevant to our practice. My mentor is Dr. Siti Ismail, whose research area is mesenchymal stem cells. I will write more about her exciting field of research in the coming weeks.

In the afternoon two of the scientist gave informal presentation of their research. Isma Lisa Mohd Isa talked about her research into treatment for chronic lower back pain; she is developing a bio gel that has the potential to be surgically implanted into the spine to regenerate the degenerative matrix material.
Sahana Ganesh introduced us to her research into creating artificial pathways for nerves for the treatment of nerve damage. Sahana is manufacturing these from proteins taken from a cow. I’m very excited about the potential this material has for the creation of bio-art.

It was clear from these two talks just how innovative the work of the researchers in the CURUM is and also how relevant the work is to my research into the technologies that extend the human. I think it will take some time to figure out which projects are most relevant to my project, but I look forward to figuring this out and all the researchers I will meet in-between.