A Dry and Silent World: Part 4, ‘Interactions with non-scientists’.

In this four-part series, four researchers – an Ear, Nose and Throat Registrar, a Dentist, an Artist and a Professor – reflect on their experience working together on A Dry and Silent World, a multi-disciplinary collaboration between the Faculty of Dentistry, Oral & Craniofacial Sciences, Centre for Craniofacial and Regenerative Biology, King’s College London, and freelance artist Emma Barnard, brokered and sponsored by the Cultural Institute at King’s. A Dry and Silent Worldis an ongoing project; works produced as a result of this collaboration will be exhibited in 2019.

In part 1, ‘A little like stepping off a precipice, but a lot like coming up for air’, ENT Specialist Dr Mona Mozaffari talks about pausing clinical training to pursue a lab-based PhD and participate in the King’s Arts in Dentistry Project.

In part 2, ‘Pretty experiments in the laboratory’, Dr Tathyane Harumi Nakajima Teshima discusses how it feels to be part of a team of scientists working with an artist.

In part 3, Translating the material into visual form, Emma Barnard gives an artist’s perspective on collaboration.

In this final post (part 4), Professor Abigail Tucker reflects on looking at your own research from another disciplinary perspective and on the value of art for seeing problems from a patient’s point of view.

‘Interactions with non-scientists makes you realise how isolating science can be’: The Professor/Researcher

 It’s always interesting looking at your research from another point of view. Just trying to explain intricate research in simple terms, boiling it down to the important nuggets, is an important exercise. Can you explain why you find things fascinating, can you share your feelings of wonder at how the body works?

Interactions with non-scientists makes you realise how isolating science can be, and gives you a chance to look at your research from a different perspective.  If you can’t convince someone of the importance of what you do, are you concentrating on the wrong thing, or are you just failing to communicate effectively?

‘NO JOY’ Digital CType Print 2018. Text that incorporates immunohistochemistry of a human eardrum detailing a person’s experience when faced with 80% hearing loss.
Image: ©Emma Barnard

As part of the Hidden Disabilities project we are looking at problems from the patient’s point of view. What things do they find particularly difficult? What aspects of their condition make the biggest impact on their lives? It is not about understanding the underlying causes of the disorder, the genes, the cells, the tissues, but more about the human cost. As a non-clinical researcher, who is not involved directly with patients, I have been thrown out of my normal comfort zone. I am a biologist at heart, interested in how structures form, the mechanisms underlying why things go wrong, and how evolution has shaped the way our bodies work. With our artist collaborator, Emma Barnard, we have been drawing, describing, and listening to moving patient stories. We have been using the anatomy of the structures we research (bunch of grapes like budding salivary glands and snail shell like coiled ears) combined with the consequence of defects (xerostomia and hearing loss), to illustrate the impact of change. Emma has been encouraging us to look at these structures in a different light, creating larger than life 3D models, and having fun exploring the effect of colour and liquids of different viscosities.  Last week we had an entertaining session making a creative mess in the lab throwing histology dyes on giant salivary gland models. One of these dyes, Alcian blue, is used in the lab to label the mucous secreting cells of the gland, with mucous production often disrupted in patients with xerostomia. We were therefore combining normal lab interactions (glands and dyes) but providing a rather surreal aspect to produce something very different. I found the resultant images and videos very striking and thought provoking and it will be great to see how others respond to them.

As the project extends it will be interesting to further explore the links between anatomy, function and quality of life, and watch the project, and our own perceptions, evolve.

Professor Abigail Tucker, Dean Postgraduate Research Studies, Centre for Craniofacial & Regenerative Biology

A dry and silent world: living with hidden disabilities is a collaboration between the Faculty of Dentistry, Oral & Craniofacial Sciences, Centre for Craniofacial and Regenerative Biology, King’s College London, and Emma Barnard, brokered and supported by the Cultural Institute at King’s. In collaboration with:Professor Abigail Tucker, Dr Tathyane Harumi Nakajima Teshima, Dr Monireh Mozaffari, and Dr Doris Cuckovic.

This post is part 4 of a four-part series. Posts 1, 2, and 3 can be read here, here and here

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