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Inspired by Bragg: Meet the PGR students working at the centre point of art and science.

Leeds Creative Labs announces its latest iteration: PGR Edition. Meet the students taking on the challenge.

Coloured films under the microscope — Alex Gresty

Once again we are in the creative sandbox of Leeds Creative Labs. In this iteration we welcome a collaboration among postgraduate research (PGR) students from the Bragg centre and practice-based PGR students from the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures.

What is Leeds Creative Labs?

Established in 2012, Leeds Creative Labs is the pioneering programme hosted by the Cultural Institute at the University of Leeds. It connects researchers with creative professionals to spend three days together without any expectation of an outcome. The experience is characterised by playfulness, curiosity and creativity.

We are particularly excited about this iteration, as we welcome PGR students into the programme for the very first time.

Background to this edition

The Cultural Institute has been working with academics from the Bragg Centre for Materials Research since 2019, when an edition of Leeds Creative Labs paired Materials scientists and engineers with professionals from the cultural and creative industries.

The initiative was led by the Bragg Centre’s Professor Lorna Dougan and Dr Scott McLaughlin from the School of Music, alongside Steve Manthorp from the Cultural Institute. Initially funded through the University of Leeds Interdisciplinary Pump Priming fund, additional funding to continue collaborations was secured by Lorna through an EPSRC engineering public engagement champion award with an approximate value of £125k.

Since then, the Cultural Institute has continued to work with the Bragg Centre; playing a central role in coordinating Inspired by Bragg, a lively cultural programme which casts light on the interdisciplinary approach that underpins research at Leeds.

The collaboration and beyond

After working together over a series of weeks, participants will be showcasing their experiences at a share event. The event is open to all and will take place at the University of Leeds. If you wish to attend please register via this link.

Students taking part in this years’ programme will be encouraged to apply for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) grant ‘Exploring creativity and creative thinking as an effective tool in materials research and public engagement.’ Participants in the programme will also join our Leeds Creative Labs Alumni, a community of previous participants from arts, HE and business. Through this network participants receive ongoing opportunities to continue their work and support to take collaborations forward from initial idea stage to the creation of new work, activity and material.

Let’s meet the scientists and artists working together over the next few weeks.

Sustainable Packaging and Therapeutic Clothes

Alex Gresty is a PGR student working in the School of Physics and Astronomy. She is a part of the ‘Soft Matter Physics’ group at Leeds, looking at the properties of cellulose films and how we can alter their microscopic properties such as orientation, crystallinity or composition to improve their macroscopic properties such as strength, elongation to failure or water and oxygen barrier capability. Alongside Alex’s work with the Bragg centre, she explains that her ‘love language’ is making things for her family. She explains:

I’m somewhat obsessed with clothing and am always crocheting something way too ambitious, swiftly followed by a tantrum. I’ve also recently started painting and made little postcards for all my friends who live in Leeds of the Yorkshire rose. I adore cooking a baking as well and making dishes look as great as they taste is so rewarding.’

Working alongside Alex, is Catherine Howard, PGR student working in the School of Design. Her research area addresses a perceived deficiency in therapeutic provision and intervention for students in secondary school. The aim of the research is to determine whether young people, aged 11- 16, with existing social, emotional or mental health (SEMH) issues identified by their school, can gain therapeutic benefits from textile processes such as hand stitch via a series of group workshop interventions. The working title is ‘Therapeutic Cloth’.

Catherine is a mature student who has retired after 43 years in teaching. She has always worked with disadvantaged young people in secondary schools and focused on inclusion and special needs in inner city communities. Outside of work and study, Catherine developed her textile work over the years, primarily focussing on using hand stich to explore various subjects including memory, ageing, parting and mental health. Her work has been exhibited both in the UK and Ukraine. Catherine has a strong belief in collaboration, as she explains:

Participatory projects interest me because there is power in the process of making and also in the outcome of the shared work. Belonging to a group, learning new skills and being validated by approval for their work are important aspects of positive mental health.

Quantum Many-Body Systems and Experiencing Failure

Jean-Yves is a PhD student in the Theoretical Physics Research Group at the University of Leeds. His work is focused on quantum many-body systems, such as electrons in a solid, and in particular on how they retain information. At their scale, it is generically very hard to recover any information about the state of the system at a prior time. In his research, Jean-Yves studies special physical systems in which this loss of information does not happen. Beyond gaining insight into how physics works at the atomistic scale, understanding how this unusual behaviour can happen is crucial for creating long-lasting memory for quantum computers.

Jean-Yves is paired up with, Sarah Dawson, PGR student currently in the second year of her PhD with the School of English, titled Practicing Failure in Contemporary Experimental Poetry Performance. She considers failure as both a generative methodology in the creative arts, and as psychosomatic trauma experienced by individuals who perceive that they have not met expectations placed upon them in everyday life. She devises task-based performances that risk failure due to their high level of difficulty, which have included live improvised talks, translation into and out of the international phonetic alphabet, and the use of speech-to-text software that does not accurately record her language. These failed tasks generate unexpected outcomes and prompt her to work through the process of recovery from failure. Her research asks what creative failure can do to address failure as it is experienced in everyday life.

Polymer Structures and Artist Networks

Merin is a postgraduate researcher in the Department of Applied Mathematics. Her area of research spans soft matter, polymer physics, tilings and computational modelling. The main objective of her thesis is to look into the structures of polymers and compare them with tesselations to see if polymers can form patterns similar to them.

When she is not coding to find missing pieces in her polymer tessellations, she enjoys hiking, badminton and climbing. On the artistic side, she practices drawing, painting (watercolour and oil colour), knitting and crocheting. Most recently, she took part in a ‘Sparking Community’ activity, whereby members of the group painted Kirkstall bridge to bring more awareness on climate change.

Tiling Image — Merin Joseph

Working with Merin, is artist and researcher, Alice Chandler. Alice is currently undertaking a funded collaborative doctoral award between the University of Leeds and Yorkshire Visual Arts Network. Her PhD research explores themes relating to value, impact and sustainability in artist networks. It will build on YVAN’s current research and partnerships to understand the nature of early career artist networks in Yorkshire and how different types of networks affect arts practice.

As an artist, Alice’s practice is informed by the intersection between art, craft and design. By learning about and utilising various craft processes, she creates series of works that build narrative and interrogate our relationship with the domestic and wearable. Dependent on display and context, her work can be at once sculptural, functional, or decorative. Alice is interested in object and material networks that contain layered histories, etymologies, narratives, myths, and meaning. She often draws from the material culture and history of her hometown of Leeds and wider Yorkshire region through both archival exploration and everyday experiences.

Leeds Creative Labs — Share event, 9th June

Join us as we listen in on the creative and playful collaborations between PGR students from the Bragg Centre and AHC.

Subscribe to the Cultural Institute at this link for more news on cultural activity on and off campus, open-calls and more.



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