Prof Anne Osbourn
Translating Science is an experiment. There is so much exciting scientific research under way in Norwich. This research, carried out across the six partner organisations on the Norwich Research Park (University of East Anglia, Norfolk & Norwich Hospital, John Innes Centre, Earlham Institute, Quadram Institute and The Sainsbury Laboratory) tackles major challenges such as ensuring that we have a plentiful and nutritious food supply, understanding human health and nutrition, combatting disease, and finding creative solutions to biodiversity loss and climate change. Norwich is recognised internationally for its scientific research. It is also world renowned as a hub for the creative arts. Although there is cross-fertilisation between science and the arts in Norwich and the wider region, there is also considerable unrealized potential for synergy. Translating Science is a collaborative project between the Norwich Research Park and the National Centre for Writing (also based in Norwich). Its initial aim was to test the water – to take one small step towards a bigger ambition – towards diving in.
Translating Science project brought scientists from Norwich Research Park together with established writers, so providing an opportunity for experts within two very different fields of work to collaborate and gain fresh insight and inspiration from each other. At the kick-off workshop, the scientists began by sharing their research with the writers through brief presentations and discussion. This was followed by a ‘speed-dating’ session that enabled the writers and scientists to find out more about each other. The whole cohort (writers and scientists) then took part in some writing exercises, led by Sam Ruddock from the National Centre for Writing. There was a real feeling of excitement in the sharing session at the end of this process when the creative works were read out. Following an offline polling process, the scientists and writers then teamed up in pairs to begin their adventures together. Each writer was commissioned to write a piece inspired by the research of their partner. The writers were encouraged to position their work within the overall theme of Healthy Plants, Healthy People, Healthy Planet. The process involved a lot of exchange, follow up discussion, and in some cases visits to the research laboratories. The outputs are showcased in this anthology. It is fascinating to see how each partnership led to such distinctive and captivating outputs, and to reflect on how the interaction with the research scientist has shaped the writing.
‘By triggering the readers’ excitement and imagination, we hope that the readers will in turn be supported in developing a deeper understanding of the benefits of science-based research.’
In its second phase, with the publication of the Translating Science anthology, the project aims to engage more people in science by articulating research conducted by world-leading scientists at the NRP in new ways. Readers will encounter science-based research that they may not have been familiar with before. NRP science will be opened up as a meeting place – a place of exchange – in new and intriguing ways.
By triggering the readers’ excitement and imagination, we hope that the readers will in turn be supported in developing a deeper understanding of the benefits of science-based research for solving the many challenges we face and help to influence policy and decision makers to make the right choices. The commissions present a positive outlook for the future of our world.
As Norwich celebrates its tenth anniversary as England’s first UNESCO City of Literature in 2022, this is a timely project which demonstrates the power of storytelling in our city. We are incredibly lucky that the Research Park and National Centre for Writing both call Norwich home.
You can browse the creative responses below, or download the full digital anthology in desktop or mobile form.
Megan Bradbury is a novelist based in Norwich. Her first novel, Everyone is Watching, was published by Picador in 2016. The book explored the relationship between art, sex and urban planning in New York City throughout the twentieth century through the consciousnesses of leading cultural figures from the city’s history (among them, Walt Whitman, Robert Moses, Robert Mapplethorpe and Edmund White). Described as a ‘beating heart of a novel’ by Ali Smith, and ‘one of the best de-buts I’ve read in years’ by Eimear McBride, the book was longlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize and Not the Booker Prize, and was chosen as one of the Guardian’s Best Books of 2016.
She is an experienced artistic collaborator and has worked on commissioned projects with acclaimed artists from across the world. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, and she has been the recipient of a Charles Pick Fellowship, an Escalator Award, two writing awards from Arts Council England and one from the Authors’ Foundation.
Vahni (Anthony Ezekiel) Capildeo FRSL is a Trinidadian Scottish writer of non-fiction and poetry. After completing a DPhil in Old Norse and translation theory, Capildeo worked at the Oxford English Dictionary, in culture for development (Commonwealth Foundation), and in academia. Their eight books and eight pamphlets include Measures of Expatriation (Carcanet, 2016) (Forward Poetry Prizes Best Collection award). Capildeo’s interests include silence, plurilingualism, site-specific themes (especially poetics of time in place), and performance traditions and practice. They are Writer in Residence and Professor at the University of York, a Visiting Scholar at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and an Honorary Student of Christ Church, Oxford. Image (c) Adrian Pope
Shey Hargreaves is a scriptwriter and performer working across theatre, film, audio projects and graphic novels. Her most recent live show, Sick, was a funny, honest and bittersweet account of her time working as a receptionist in a busy NHS emergency department. Her first graphic novel, Open Day, was a collaboration between Shey, illustrator Charli Vince, and a group of physicists working on 3D printing with atoms at the University of Nottingham. She is currently working on a podcast, Badger Watching, about two siblings going for walks in rural Norfolk during lockdown. She is one of Norwich Castle’s artists in residence for 2021, for which she is writing a new live theatre piece about nurses caring for patients with leprosy in Norwich’s medieval hospitals. She lives in Norwich with her wife, three young sons and a tortoise.
Jess Morgan is a writer and a singer-songwriter from Acle, near Great Yarmouth, who has made a career penning gutsy modern folk song, touring the worlds darkest cafes and just once, the O2 Arena. Jess also has a MA in Creative Non Fiction, was shortlisted for the I’ll Show You Mine prize and longlisted for the Hinterland prize for non-fiction. Jess’ latest project joining music together with live literature, was backed by Arts Council England and will be developed further in 2022 with the support of the Inn Crowd rural arts programme. Through lockdown, Jess had been carefully drafting her book – about birdwatching and IVF.
Edward Parnell has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. He’s been the recipient of an Escalator Award from the National Centre for Writing, and a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship to fund a research expedition to the Australian Outback.
The Listeners, his first book, won the 2014 Rethink New Novels Prize. His latest book, Ghostland (William Collins, 2019), is a work of narrative non-fiction that was shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley Prize 2020 for memoir and autobiography, and for the East Anglian book awards. Edward is a keen birdwatcher and naturalist, which also informs his work.
Alexander Gordon Smith is the award-winning author of thirteen novels for young people, most notably the Escape From Furnace series, which is loved by millions of readers worldwide and which is set to become a Hollywood movie. Other titles include The Inventors, The Fury, The Devil’s Engine and This Book Will Kill You, which is also being adapted for the screen. As Alex Smith he writes the DCI Kett thrillers, which have hit the number one spot on bestseller charts in several countries. He lives in Norwich with his wife and his four daughters, and teaches creative writing around the world.
Heidi Williamson is an Advisory Fellow for the Royal Literary Fund. She was Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of East Anglia in 2018-2020 and 2021. She teaches for the Poetry School, Poetry Society, National Centre for Writing and The Writing Coach. Her first collection, Electric Shadow, was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize. The Print Museum won the East Anglian Book Award for Poetry. Return by Minor Road (Bloodaxe, April 2020) revisits her time living in Dunblane at the time of the Primary School shooting.
Dr Federico Bernuzzi is a research scientist working at the Quadram Institute. He undertook his Ph.D. researching bioactives found in broccoli for the maintenance of health. He started his scientific career in 2011 when he joined the University of East Anglia and undertook a Bachelor’s Degree in Biochemistry. As part of that degree, he spent a year working at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) a world leading pharmaceutical company. Working alongside biostatisticians inspired him to undertake a Master’s Degree in Biostatistics. Throughout his doctorate he has taken part in outreach events including the Norwich Science Festival and writing blogs to promote the health benefits of broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables.
Dr Nasmille Larke-Mejía is a Postdoctoral Scientist on the GROW Colombia project working in the Agricultural Diversity Programme. She focuses on studying the microbial ecology of soils associated to different crops (sugarcane and coffee). Nasmille is an Environmental Microbiologist, specialized in the use of cultivation-dependent and cultivation-independent methods to study the microbial ecology of microorganisms in the terrestrial environment.
Nasmille finished her PhD in 2018 at the School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, working on characterizing soil and phyllosphere microorganisms that use isoprene as their sole source of C using techniques including stable isotope probing, amplicon sequencing and metagenome analysis.
Dr Bethany Nichols is a Computational Biologist and Turing Fellow, working at the John Innes Centre. Using AI and deep learning techniques, Bethany aims to extract plant feature data from images, so that they can be used in combination with genetic data, to unravel the genes regulating Brassica development. Her work is part of the Brassica, Rapeseed and Vegetable Optimisation (BRAVO) project, and will help to uncover how environmental conditions affect plant development.
Professor Anne Osbourn’s research focusses on plant natural products. An important advance from her laboratory has been the discovery that in plant genomes the genes needed to make particular natural products are often organised in clusters like ‘beads on a string’, a finding that has greatly accelerated the discovery of new pathways and chemistries. She has also established a synthetic biology platform that provides a new route to synthesize and access previously inaccessible natural products and analogs for medicinal, agricultural and industrial applications. Anne is a poet and also founder of Science, Art and Writing, a cross-curricular science education outreach programme sawtrust.org.
Dr. Jeff Price is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and Associate Professor, Biodiversity and Climate Change at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, UEA. As coordinator of the Wallace Initiative he has overseen the modelling of the potential impacts of climate change on ~130,000 terrestrial species. He was a Lead Author on multiple IPCC Assessment Reports, for which he shares in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. His paper on the potential impacts of climate change on the birds of Colorado features in the murder mystery ‘Death of a Songbird’ by Christine Goff.
Vincent Were completed his PhD studies in Biological sciences at the University of Exeter and currently works as a post-doctoral researcher at the Sainsbury Laboratory. His research project is geared towards understanding the population biology of rice blast in Sub-Saharan Africa with an ultimate goal of developing rice lines with durable resistance to rice blast disease. He is also using molecular and live cell imaging as tools to analyse effector-host cell interactions during infection and to observe cytological changes. The aim is to determine sets of genes involved in disease process during plant-pathogen interaction, and to gain insight into the function of uncharacterised secreted proteins in Magnaporthe oryzae and on their putative effector host targets in rice.
Professor Pete Wilde originates from Yorkshire, graduated in Biophysics at UEA and has lived in Norwich ever since. He began work at the former Institute of Food Research, now the Quadram Institute, investigating the molecular and structural basis of the physical stability of foods such as foams, emulsions and gels. He has since applied these approaches to understanding the nutritional basis of the food we eat. His main area of research is determining how the structure of food influences digestion, release of nutrients and subsequent health impacts.
Translating Science is a partnership between National Centre for Writing and Norwich Research Park.
Supported by Arts Council England’s Ambition for Excellence Fund.