Archive for the ‘week_6’ Category

Extra_Credit_2 Helping the Blind By Gaurav Bansal

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Another lecture from the Science and Art Symposium I attended was Using Audio Cues to Enhance Navigation and Spatial Learning for the Blind by James Marston. I thought this was very interesting science it was technologically oriented. Also, I personally believe being blind is the worst amongst the three major senses someone can lose: sight, hearing, and speech. Marston brought up many statistics related to blind people, some of the more shocking ones are that 30% of blind people don’t leave home and 70% of them are unemployed.

He was very interested in cognitive maps, specifically related to a common environment with landmarks and routes. A blind person can cross a path they have previously been to before and never know it, thus being unable to produce a mental map of there surroundings.

To help the blind get a sense of their surroundings, Marston discussed UCSB’s Personal Guidance System (PGS). This system requires a spatial database to be compiled, as well as headphones and a GPS unit. This virtual sound method will project objects by name in the direction where it is. For example, if there is a bus stop to your right, you will hear the work bus stop to your right. To me it seems like it would drive someone crazy to hear every object around them, but I believe a future system will have customizable options.


A great example of a virtual sound is the following link, this doesn’t apply to helping blind people, but it shows the concept very well; be sure to use headphones.

Marston has also explored other similar methods such as having a sound bee when you are walking in the right direction. He conducted many experiments with this concept. He took a few volunteers and setup a complicated path through a city and out in a field. By following the beeps, they were able to complete the course without a problem. Many of the users said that they would be more willing to go out if this system was in place. However there are many issued for a commercial system.

The system heavily relies on GPS; however GPS resolution is a big problem. Currently, the civilian GPS has an accuracy of around 3 meters. For sighted people, this is fine since it will get you close enough. However, for a blind person, 3 meters can be the difference between the sidewalk and the middle of the road. Also the cost and time to setup a fully define spatial database is very large.

This is a very ambitious project but I think it will be a long time before the public will see real use out of it.

By Gaurav Bansal

Extra Credit - Michael Century Lecture - Shanpeng Li

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

In the last lecture of the course, we were able to be joined by Michael Century at the CNSI auditorium where he lectured about his theory and proposal on Modes of Interdisciplinarity in Art and Techno-Science. The lecture was very interesting as it went through many of the past trends of technology and briefly predicted how our technology today will affect the future. Michael began the lecture by talking about the history of our society and the stages it went through. One of the  most significant idea he showed was the history of compartmentalization and decompartmentalization in the world and how it separated different periods of innovations into period of stability and threshold. On the diagram that Michael showed in class, he showed interchangeable period of stability and threshold going in the order of the Middle Ages (Stability), the Renaissance (Threshold), the Modern Age (Stability), the Information Age (Threshold), and the Post-Information Age which he placed a question mark upon in hope of experiencing this age. Looking at the trends from past ages, we can predict that the up coming Post-Information Age is a period of stability unlike the Renaissance and the Information Age. Michael’s focus was on the interaction of art and science and he realized that during the threshold periods where massive innovative ideas flourished was when artists and scientists were truly able to communicate with each other and share their ideas.

Later in the lecture, Michael proposed his 3 modes of interdisciplinarity which are integrative, service, and reflexive. For each mode, two different examples were given to provide assistance on how each mode works. The mode of integrative focuses on the combination and coming together of two methods such as art and science to reach another completely different approach similar to the third culture discussed in our class. The mode of service focuses on the use of one method by the other to create innovative designs. The last but not least is the mode of reflexive which in my opinion is the most crucial and beneficial. The mode of reflexive focuses on challenging the past methods by modifying and improving them to come to a more developed and advanced method. One of the most interesting examples that Michael showed was John Whitney who took military hardware and modified them for the use of film which is an excellent example of service mode.

One of the most important diagrams that Michael showed was the diagram of Schumpeter’s wave theory. In this diagram, 5 different waves were shown each describing a period where a new form of innovation truly took over the society. For example, the wave began with the technology of water power and then moved on to the new innovation of steam power and eventually ends with the 5th wave that consists of digital network and software. Michael pointed out that before each new waves were made, many artists are already experiencing with technology that contributes to the oncoming wave of innovation. In this sense, currently we should actually be experiencing with technology that will eventually develop into the 6th wave of innovation. In my opinion, this wave will mainly consist of biotechnology, nanotechnology, and robotics which currently is not quite advanced by developing at an amazing speed.

Michael’s lecture was very entertaining and interesting as it truly showed the infinite possibilities that can develop from the combination of science and art.

- Shanpeng Li

Week 8 Blog _ Space Art _ Sarah Van Cleve

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

During class on Tuesday we learned a lot of facts and information about space and alike but seeing as this is a “Design Media Arts” class I decided to look into ways artists have expressed themselves in space (“outer-space”, not empty space just in case that needs clarification).

One of the coolest pieces of “space art” that I found was a sculpture called “Orbiting Unification Ring Satellite” or “O.U.R.S.” The structure never actually came to being but the idea behind it is really interesting. The structure was meant to celebrate the advent of the new millennium and promote global unanimity as a giant ring large enough to be seen by the naked eye by viewers on Earth. The original design had O.U.R.S. measuring one kilometer in diameter with a ring thickness measuring about thirty meters—large enough that it would appear to be a quarter of the size of the moon. Using a new technology which was being developed by the European Space Agency, the “artists” were going inflate the large structure and upon reaction with solar energy the special material made of a laminate of Kevlar, Kapton and an ultra-violet sensitive resin the “Inflatable Space Rigidized Structure” was supposed to harden as it was. Unfortunately this costly project was never built because of a lack of significant financing but the idea behind this literally gigantic symbol of worldwide unity is an awesome piece of “theoretical art.”


Another piece of space art I like was designed as a precursor to O.U.R.S. The idea was first proposed in 1988 as a way to mend the sore feelings that still existed at the end of the Cold War, particularly those between the two superpowers with space programs: Russia and the United States. The project was called “O.U.R. Space Peace Sculpture” and in a similar matter to O.U.R.S. it was a white ring, this one measuring only six meters in diameter though. The word “peace” was written on the outer covering of the ring in every language that is spoken throughout the world. In 1992 the Space Peace Sculpture was deployed on a spacewalk on the Mir Space Station using similar inflatable technology to that which was meant to be used for O.U.R.S.

On September 3, 1995 it is said that the first art exhibition in space took place. The exhibit, called Ars Ad Astra, was a presentation of twenty pieces of artwork in the Russian Mir Space Station. The European Space Agency asked artists worldwide submissions on the theme “Space and Humanity.” The artwork was judged by the cosmonauts and in the end the American Elisabeth Carol Smith for her “When Dreams Are Born” (see image below). Though this exhibit in space may not seem too exciting I thought that cosmonaut Thomas Reiter’s enthusiasm for art was inspiring: “…and let me tell you that there are many things here on board which keep us alive, of course technical systems which produce oxygen to breathe, water to drink which clean the air from carbon dioxide, food and all these things which help to keep us alive, life support systems. But I can tell you that this kind of thing (he holds up an art work from ars ad astra) are a part of what is necessary to keep us alive, to keep the memory to the Earth, to our families, to our friends, to the nature.”

Biotechnology and the Growing Food Crisis by Mitch Platter

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009


When I was listening to Tuesday’s lecture on Biotechnology, I had several different thoughts going through my mind. How could the use of biotechnology help our ever-changing planet? What are the negative consequences to these advancements, if any? So, for my blog, I have decided to do a little research into the pros and cons of biotechnology, specifically in the production of food.
The use of biotechnology to create new sources of food has several positive aspects. By the year 2050, it is predicted that there will be some 9 billion people on our planet, all of which will require healthy, nutritious food to eat. In our planet today with roughly two billion less people than this estimate, we have failed to provide food for all of these people. How can we expect to feed two billion more people? The answer to this question can be solved through the use of biotechnology in food sources. By genetically modifying plants, or creating “GM plants,” the problem of global hunger can be significantly reduced. For example, biotechnology has already been used to create “insect resistant” crops. This development allows for farmers to use less insecticide which produces healthier, safer crops. GM crops have also been produced that reduce the amount of ploughing required, which results in enhanced soil quality and a decrease in CO2 emissions resulting from ploughing. Genetic modifications have also been used to create more nutritional plants, as well as drought resistance plants, that can grow in climates usually unthinkable to the given variety of plants.  Although these genetic modifications, if used widely, could not entirely solve the problem of global hunger, they could greatly help.
So one might wonder, what is holding us back from utilizing this seemingly perfect option? The answer to that is the moral problem behind genetically modifying plants or animals.  Although people who believe genetic modifications are harmless argue that it is just another step in gene modification, and that people have been breeding crops and animals to get desired results for hundreds of years, this is not quite true.  Gene modification allows for the transfer of genes across species barriers, something that would not be possible no matter how much cross breading or breading within species. It is also argued that gene modifications could have unforeseen consequences. Genes work in complex systems, and the introduction of foreign genes into an organism could potentially cause great damage. The beneficial aspects of GM crops can also be called into question. Evolution suggests that even if we create plants that are resistant to insects, natural gene modifications will eventually cause insects to find a way to surpass this immunity. It can also be argued that some “herbicide tolerant” plants that have been created could transfer this quality to weeds, creating super weeds that are immune to eco-friendly weed killers, causing a whole new problem.
Although several pros and cons have been addressed in this blog concerning genetic modifications, this is only the beginning of the debate, the likes of which I do not have time to address in this blog. However, the main point comes down to the fact that we need to find a way to accommodate all the people we have put on our planet.

Here are the articles in which I obtained most of my information:

By Mitch Platter.

Week 6 Biotech and Animals by John Philip Bongco

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Webster’s Dictionary defines Biotechnology as: the manipulation (as through genetic engineering) of living organisms or their components to produce useful usually commercial products (as pest resistant crops, new bacterial strains, or novel pharmaceuticals) ; also : any of various applications of biological science used in such manipulation. I am using this week’s blog as an opportunity to discuss careers in biotechnology.

My Dad the Bacteriologist

Growing up, I never really understood what my dad’s profession was. I did not find the title of his career choice appealing or interesting in any way. My dad referred to himself as a bacteriologist or microbiologist interchangeably. I was never intrigued by the endless amount of petri dishes spread across his workplace and I certainly did not enjoy looking at the E. coli samples that he played with. Now, I realize that his job is one of the many careers people can pursue in the growing field of biotechnology. More importantly, I realize how important jobs in the biotechnology industry are.


Many biotechnologists are responsible for the production of new medications in the pharmaceutical industry. Professional biotechnologists sometimes use living organisms to manufacture products. Their ultimate goal is to make advancements in health care, specifically medication and medical treatment, improve current environmental issues, develop new plants and animals and even improve them. In other words, biotechnology is a growing field that overarches many focuses.

Branches of Biotechnology

Biotechnologists can specialize in microbiology, biochemistry, organic chemistry, plant science, animal science, biology and/or other life science focuses.


For the most part, there is a comfortable demand for PhD and Masters level biotechnologists.


On average, most biotechnologists make between $50,000 and $80,000 a year. Biotechnologists involved in genetics can earn approximately $82,000 to $93,000 a year.

How Do We Relate this to DESMA 9?

It is easy to see how technology and science are related to biotechnology. After all, science and technology are so evident in the word biotechnology itself. I suppose the difficult part is finding examples of how biotechnology can be related to art. There are a number artists that use biotechnology for inspiration. These artists  create pieces that deal with genetics and other biotechnology related subjects (e.g. DNA helix structure, stem cell research). I feel that the piece below is very interesting, depicts biotechnology subjects in art and easily connects with the overarching themes of DESMA 9.hunter1

This piece is a representation of how anthrax spreads over time. The facial expressions of the woman depicted in the “anthrax clock” gradually changes from one that is happy to an expression of great pain. Another picture depicts the controversial issue of stem cell research. The woman in the picture experienced some kidney failure and the picture cleverly  implies how patients such as her could benefit from advancements in stem cell research. Frankly, I am not a fan of art pieces like these. They are not things that I find beautiful, but perhaps they serve a different purpose. Maybe they aim to get people to think about important topics like stem cell research which has the potential to save many lives. hunter2

By: John Philip Bongco

Week 6: Swarm Technology by Komal Kapoor

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

This week’s lecture was exceptionally interesting because I have a personal interest in Biotechnology. The future of science lies in biotechnology, since it has already manifested in a lot of the modern technology. The subject that intrigues me the most is Swarm Intelligence. I initially learned about swarm intelligence in Michael Crichton’s book Prey and was instantly fascinated. The book is about nanoswarm that evolves to learn by its environment and learns predatory behavior. The scientists lose control of the nanobots when the robots start committing crimes. When I first read the book, I enjoyed it as a nice piece of fiction. After this lecture, I started some research on swarm intelligence and realized that Crichton’s imagination is actually in the process of being brought to life. Many scientists believe that it is important to create multiple nanobots in order to craft artificial intelligence. I came one such set of scientists/artists while conducting my research that work on the orb swarms. They have created these robots that interact with each other, and human beings, on the dance floor in the form of dance steps and music.

The artists describe them as piece of “Kinetic Art” explaining that “The SWARM of autonomous beings by their very nature will have emergent and complex behavior. They will flock, flirt, dance and interact, and their actions will surprise and astonish even us, their creators. They are simple, but together they will behave in ways more complex than we can predict. A lot like LIFE”. Here is a video that explains the SWARM:

The creators follow a book called The Society of Mind by Marvin Minsky  that explains that “Our persona is not a unitary existence, but in fact a result of several competing functional agents within the brain.” His theory is based on the fact that humans have contradictory interactions that allow them to be intelligent and unpredictable.  Fascinating ideas!


Week 6: Vegetarianism- more than just a health issue- by Leslie Grant

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

“No thanks, I’m a vegetarian.” I have uttered that phrase countless times in the past eight months, as an explanation for my choice to opt for the veggie burger over the regular burger, after expressing my reluctance to spend money on Mongolian barbeque ($16 might be a reasonable price to pay for a meat buffet- for a salad buffet, not so much), and in countless other everyday situations. Many times the responses I get are ones of surprise, and it is not unlikely for people to question my reasoning. I suppose I disappoint them when I do not burst out with a monologue about animal rights, and lamely explain that my motives are mainly health, and that it wasn’t a big deal to me since I was never obsessed with meat in the first place. I do always feel a little guilty that it isn’t more due to my compassion for animals. Don’t get me wrong, I adore animals of all sort, I’ve just never questioned that naturalness in eating them. However, this week’s reading by Carol Gigliotti made me contemplate it more than ever.

Of course in recent years I have been made aware of how sustainable vegetarianism is. We would no longer have to worry about using resources to feed animals that we are only going to kill, and the methane content of the air would be greatly reduced with the breeding of less cows. And of course, the ethical argument for vegetarianism is something I was aware of before I even considered it. I was not aware, however, that the rights of animals were being argued for from the 16th century. Leonardo da Vinci’s progressive view of animal rights truly surprised and fascinated me. Reading this article and seeing how various artists and scientists described the issue as one of anthropocentrism truly made me see the connection between using animals for food and using animals for experimental purposes- the argument of whether eating meat is ethical or not directly relates to bioethics.

I think that one of the most fascinating points of this article, although it is one that was only briefly mentioned near the end, is the work that is being done on “Disembodied Cuisine.” The project contemplates the possibility of the production of “victimless meat” that could be grown from a biopsy of an animal that is still alive and healthy. More information about the project, which is currently producing frog skeletal muscle as a source of food, at this website: I’m sure many people could echo my statement that I have never considered the possibility of this since eating meat is the norm for most of our society. Because of this, I feel as if many people would react negatively to this idea upon first hearing it. Undoubtedly people will feel opposed to something that seems so unnatural to them, and especially since there are many aspects of the process to take into consideration. Will people be able to obtain the same nutrients from meat that has essentially been produced? Will there prove to be any side effects from ingesting this? For now it is easy to write off the issue since it is not a pressing one, but as the technology progresses we will be faced with different questions. Suppose there are no flaws in the technology and it becomes feasible to continue eating meat without killing animals. Surely the public could not present a logical reason for the continued slaughter of animals. If that were the case, how then could biological testing on animals be allowed to continue? If humans no longer saw our living, breathing, companions as necessary prey for our survival I feel as if a new type of respect would be bestowed upon them that would convert people who currently condone animal testing.

An example of Disembodied Cuisine. Look tasty?

An example of Disembodied Cuisine. Look tasty?

I am fascinated to see how the process of engineering our meat, rather than slaughtering it, will pan out. If it is somehow able to make it past all of the barriers that will be presented by society I truly feel that the next issue will indeed be whether we can continue to justify animal testing now that they are no longer “necessary” to our diets, whether animals will still be seen as expendable. Could the perfection of one technology temporarily slow technological process in other fields while we search for a replacement for the animals we currently use as our test subjects?

Leslie Grant

Week 6 _ BioArt _ Sarah Van Cleve

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

After reading many of the previous blogs I think it’s quite clear that there is a lot of controversy surrounding many forms of biotechnology like genetically modified organisms. Instead of reviewing once more the ethical questions that arise from the practice I’d like to highlight some works of biotechnology that I found especially interesting in both a scientific and artist sense.

Two artists whose work I found fascinating were mentioned in our reading “Genetic Technologies and Animals.” Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr work focuses on semi-living collections of tissue which they use to create images of other objects. Below is an image of a spearhead which Catts and Zurr made from muscle cells of mice and rabbits, along with nerve cells from goldfish.


Another artist named Adam Brandejs works more with the idea of biotechnology rather than the science itself. In 2005 Brandejs created a website advertising “Genpets,” small genetically engineered pets that come in a variety of personalities and are kept in a “hibernation state” with a “fully functional” heart-rate monitor (see image below). No, Genpets are not real and unfortunately they don’t work as advertised. Brandejs created Genpets as a parody to sharply comment on today’s world of increasing addiction to technology. The quite funny Genpets website can be found at

There is one man in particular whose work I think fully embodies the general premise of our class. Joe Davis has been a research affiliate at the biology department of MIT since 1982. Some consider him one of the founding fathers of bioart. He works with bioinformatics which he uses in the creation of genetic databases and innovative biological art forms.

One of Davis’s most famous pieces is called “Microvenus.” The microvenus project was produced in the late 1980’s and was the first work of art created using recombinant-DNA technology. With molecular geneticist Dana Boyd, Davis took an image of the female reproductive system and encoded it as a sequence of DNA. This means they interpreted the image as a grid of light and dark pixels, or zeros and ones, and assigned these a series of DNA bases. They then inserted this sequence into the genome of E. coli bacteria and grew a colony of the newly created bacteria. While the bacteria itself wasn’t much to look at the project was ground-breaking in that it showed DNA being used in a very poetic sense. Soon after the creation of Microvenus Davis started a new work of art, this time recording the vaginal contractions of ballet dancers and, with the help of engineers and astronomers from both MIT and Harvard, he broadcasted them into space.

Another project Joe Davis has become well known for is his “audiomicroscope.” The audiomicroscope allows viewers to listen to microscopic organisms like nematodes or bacteria. The device bounces red laser light off the tiny creatures and translates the responses into sound. Though most of Davis’s work does not seem to have practical applications his work inspires people showing them that exploring science can be exciting in many different ways. A journalist for the Washington Post wrote, “Davis eschews the art versus science argument, insisting that he speaks both languages and could not possibly tear the two disciplines apart in his own mind.” I cannot think of a man whose work better epitomizes the topic of Desma 9: Art, Science, and Technology.

By: Sarah Van Cleve


Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Genetic engineering is a topic that is frequently in the news. Which is unsurprising, because what could inspire the imagination more than scientists playing God and customizing the blueprint of life? There are many applications for genetic engineering, all of which are con

Week 6 - Biotechnology of Today - Shanpeng Li

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

In today’s society, biotechnology exists almost everywhere but it’s often not noticed due to the reason that we do not see how our food is grown or processed. This week, our focus on biotechnology brought back many interests from what I have learned in the past. Whenever I think about biotechnology, two major categories come to mind, food and cloning. The food being sold and consumed today most likely have been tampered with biologically to enhance them visually and physically. Cloning on the other hand is a very serious technology currently being studied and raises a ton of ethical debates.

Food in our society today all seems perfect in terms of appearance and taste, but the reality is that most of them are genetically modified to be that way and it does not only apply to vegetables. A major component of biotechnology is done on food and crops for numerous benefits for the population and those who consume them. Some of the more obvious benefits are of course better taste and appearance. I have always wondered why the fruits and vegetables in supermarkets always look so bright and fresh, now I know that it is partly due to genetic engineering. Biotechnology performed on food can also induce other changes such as reducing how vulnerable the plants are to certain diseases or environmental harms thus creating an increase in the amount of yield. This in my opinion has a major impact on our society since it provides an excess amount of edible food source and makes it less likely for a famine to occur. Another aspect of biotechnology on food is increasing the nutritional values of these fruits and vegetables so that they can provide the needed amount of nutrients to human beings. This is great application of biotechnology because it boosts the general population’s health and most likely lengthens their expected lifespan. I have also read before that genetic engineering is often being performed on animals to gain more yield. Although this is only a rumor, many people seem to believe that companies are using genetic modification to raise chickens that have faster growth rate and a larger body. This is one of the many ways biotechnology can be exploited by companies to earn more revenue but at the cost of the quality of their products.

In recent years, biotechnology is also being studied to apply to humans and that also comes in numerous fields such as genetic testing, gene therapy, and cloning. Although each of these fields has distinct purposes, they all utilize the same concept to reach its goals. After genetics have been highly studied and developed, it gradually spread its reach onto humans and with that came the rise of numerous genetic fields that deal with the human genome. Many of these biotechnologies provide unimaginable benefits to our society such as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis or gene therapy which can cure or prevent many genetic diseases and defects, but a threshold needs to be drawn as to how far these technologies can take us. Human cloning in my opinion is definitely crossing the line by making an exact copy of a person, I’m sure there are cases where this technology is needed but there’s not many I can think of.

Biotechnology today has become very advanced, but with every new scientific discovery, there will be those who find a way to exploit it. There are countless possibilities as to what these technologies can be used for. Only with correct amount of restrictions can we make sure they are not being overly exploited.

- Shanpeng Li