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Ants and knitted proteins at Digifest

by Eva Amsen

Last night I attended performance lectures on art & science by Susan Bustos (about knitted proteins) and Amos Latteier (about ants), hosted by Sally McKay. The lectures were part of digifest, a festival about design and digital media.

Susan is a PhD student in the same program as I am, and I first heard of her lecture through an e-mail she sent to the department mailing list. Because she would be talking about knitting and proteins, I invited Maria, an avid knitter, to come along.

Connections

Before the lectures started we attended the opening reception of Photogrammetry and ran into a few Toronto photobloggers we knew. Several digifest exhibits all had their opening reception at the same location. In the crowd we recognized Veronica Verkley, who we first met at the sneak preview screening of Rhinocerous Eyes back in March. Together with Rob Cruickshank she created a display for the Mods and Rockers exhibit, which was also curated by Sally McKay. Veronica briefly introduced us to Amos Latteier, whose lecture about ants we attended that night.In the room where the lectures took place I also recognized Nadia from squiddity at another table. We’d never met, but recognized each other from various blogs.

The lectures.

Amos Latteier was up first with a powerpoint presentation on ants. He compared ant and human societies, and gave ideas on how we can learn from ants. For example, ants build structures without someone telling them what to do, and it still works: they end up with liveable homes. All his slides had mesmerizing moving backgrounds.

Amos latteier

Susan Bustos introduced the concept of protein synthesis to the mostly non-scientific audience. She explained how knitting, in a way, is like protein synthesis. Just like mRNA is the pattern that tells the ribosome how to make a protein from amino acids, the knitting pattern tells the knitter how to make a sweater from yarn. Or, in this case, how to make a protein from yarn:

susan bustos

 

Protein knitting

Susan tried to knit “her” protein (the one she’s studying for her PhD project) according to the known structural model. She made two proteins so far, but still hasn’t managed to recreate the secondary and tertiary structure of the protein properly and is now looking into the patterns that Kimberly Chapman used to make her knitted DNA. At the start of the question round, Maria jumped up with some tips on how to knit moldable coils. There were a lot of questions from people who wanted to know more about proteins and protein models. Is the structure fixed or dynamic? How are proteins degraded? How do proteins interact with each other?

 

At the end of the night, everyone left knowing a little more about ants and proteins, and we had fun too! Of course, every happiness is chemical, as the shirt of the girl at the next table proclaimed:

happiness is chemical

(Bigger versions of these and other photos of the night are on my Flickr account.)

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1 comment

No Media Kings » LadyScientist Rocks My World December 20, 2006 - 12:19 AM

[…] LECTURES! She gave a well-received talk at Harbourfront Centre to a packed Brigantine Room full of people curious about her crafty approach to protein modeling. Eva reported on it and took the pic above. […]

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