Coming to a classroom near you ... Synthesis of art and science

21st June 2013 at 01:00
Prize encourages creative thinking

Students tend to be classified from very early on as either "arty" or "scientific" but very rarely both.

It is a mindset that David Edwards, a professor at Harvard University in the US, has spent the past few years debunking. He believes that mixing your Bunsen burners with your brushstrokes is not only possible but is essential for the development of world-changing inventions. And his theory, espoused in several guises under the umbrella term "Artscience", is beginning to filter into schools.

According to Edwards' website, Artscience is the idea that merging the types of thinking used for art and science in a "simultaneously imaginative and analytical process" ensures that you have both the creative spark and the meticulous approach required to create something innovative.

The concept is finding a home in schools through the ArtScience Prize. Established as an after-school project for Boston teenagers in 2009, the prize aims to engage students in schemes that have the freedom of thought of an art project but the analytical and real-world rigour of scientific work. Students are led by mentors from the arts and sciences, and the idea deemed most original and workable wins.

Competitions have also been run in Oklahoma, Singapore and Paris, and a UK pilot took place this year. A group of 13- to 14-year-old students at Landau Forte College, Derby in England are the youngest ever participants in the ArtScience challenge. They came up with ideas such as collecting waste plastic floating in the oceans and turning it into fuel, and creating bioluminescent plants that could be used as street lights.

Emilie Glazer, director of the UK ArtScience Prize, says the trial proved so successful that she expects competitions for younger students to be rolled out more extensively.

"They have demonstrated they are just as capable as older students of coming up with cutting-edge concepts that respond to quite complex science," she explains.

She adds that this methodology may well be a route for science teachers to encourage children to engage with the subject.

"With ArtScience, children can engage on their own terms, and are able to relate science to their own interests and to think about science not in a contained way but in a creative way," she says.

At present, the scheme is heavily reliant on mentors but Glazer believes the methodology could be adapted to be led by teachers and may be rolled out as a lesson tool or an after-school club in the future.

For more on ArtScience, visit

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