EDUCATIONAL COURSE - Using art as a bridge between science and society
Boy Vijlbrief, Diewertje Houtman, Bertrand Burgers
PARTNER: Erasmus Medisch Centrum
FUNDING: Impact at the Core Rotterdam
The science of human genetics is developing very rapidly, even up until the point of enhancing human health. But to what extent can society influence this impact? After all, technological possibilities are not self-evidently ethical, necessary, or desired, and moreover, different people have different opinions about this.

We need to answer difficult questions about the needs, desires and values of the entirety of society that are related to these technologies. But how can we stimulate people from all walks of life to participate? For scientists in training, it is not obvious to acquire the necessary know-how and skills to connect science and society. With our course Art & Genomics, we are going to change this, with art and design as our secret weapon.
In practical terms, the student will investigate, assess, and experience the way art and design can contribute to meaningful public engagement for novel genetic technologies.

The student will learn about relevant examples at the intersection of, art and design and genomics, theoretical frameworks used to understand this intersection (e.g. from ethics, science communication and design), and design methods which complement methods of academic inquiry. The course is structured with the Design Thinking process as the backbone, with relevant elements connected to one step of the process per week.

In a nutshell, we will start by recognising the art and design in the field of genomics by means of interactive lectures, then analysing it and producing it ourselves in design-oriented sessions.
In September 2021, we conducted a pilot version of the course with students from the Genetics in Society minor taught at the Erasmus MC. We set up a pilot to test whether Art & Genomics would be of added value for students of scientific disciplines, our target group . The enrolled students came from various backgrounds such as biomedical sciences, medicine, bioethics, biology and psychology, making it an interdisciplinary test group. In a span of four weeks we went on art safari, held art dialogues, did lots of prototyping and much more. The overarching goal however was for the students to come up with, create, build, test and eventually exhibit a self-made art/design piece that sparks dialogue about a complex genetic related subject of their choice.
“Art and genomics has been quite a wonderful journey down the rabbit hole. I remember that I was panicking on the inside in the first lessons! ‘Help, I do not know what to do, I am not that creative.’ However, A&G nudged me to get out of my head. And as soon as I stopped overanalysing and started working with my hands and materials, designing went smoothly. I am still not very creative, but I am proud to say that I am able to design because I was willing to get out of my comfort zone, my mind.”

— Abduallah Jabori (medicine student)
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