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Graduate Student (UC Berkeley, Anthropology)

Human Practices Lab of the Anthropology of the Contemporary Research Collaboratory:


Post-genomic science is bringing new objects into the world; what are they? How are they formed? What role can ethics and human science (broadly understood) play in the formation of bringing these objects into the world?


What is the problem to which synthetic biology as a collaborative practice the answer to? The design of parts, pathways, genomes and systems will teach us about the extent to which these things cab be "rationally" designed, what are the limitations? How can other modes of engagement take up these limitations? Safety and security by-design is one example of one approach to the 'security problem' that bio-engineering poses. In this problem-space technical design cannot 'solve' the security problem, the externalities need to be named and appropriate additional modes of taking up the problem invented. The collaboration of bioengineers with other human sciences, policy-makers and ethicists is one way of taking up externalities. The externalities I have been focusing on is the security environment that synthetic biology operates in and the preparation for low probability high consequence ("black swan") events.


To observe and document the state of the art in the engineering of biology; what is working, what is not working, how are problems being solved and which projects are taken up as significant? This requires time and access.

My first concern is the technical side of the work being done in the laboratory. My second interest is to do with the "Bildung" (a 16th Century Pietist term for self-formation and education) of scientists, especially in new venues such as SynBERC My interest is to do with the way new modes of collaboration in the sciences produce not only new kinds of scientific project, such as displayed at iGEM, but also a different kind of scientist/engineer. As such I would very much like to connect to some of the junior researchers in the laboratory.

Finally, my background is in ethics and politics and as such would very much like to inquire into these aspects of the scientific work being done in the laboratory. This is of course where connection to projects such as the EU SynBIOSAFE research program will be interesting. My interest is to begin thinking at this early stage in 'synthetic' biological science about how the demand for 'responsible' science affects cutting edge research. Just as with scientific work in which you cannot know in advance what all the experimental blockages and problems will be - so too for the question of ethics. It is important to replace fears and misunderstandings with questions of significance. To ask questions of significance, you have to have experience of the practice itself, which is why the first element is so important.


Anthropology of science media:Bibliography_for_anthropology_of_science_April_08_comp.doc

The Contemporary