Second EPSRC Impact award for Richard!

Richard Ramchurn (2015 cohort) won the EPSRC “Telling Tales of Engagement” 2018 Award. This is the second year running that Richard has secured this award which will give up to £10,000 of funding to maximise the reach and impact of his research. The “Telling Tales of Engagement” 2017 Award funded Richard’s mobile touring cinema which travelled the UK in 2018 and 2019.


Post by Richard Ramchurn (2015 Cohort)

The MOMENT is a brain controlled film which has been touring since 2018. It has been primarily screened in a converted cinema caravan which has allowed it to travel outside of the cinema circuit. 

The research project adopts a performance-led research in the wild methodology, through which impact though public performance is an inherent factor – the default practice behind this methodology is that real-world artefacts are professionally made, and performed for the public, as the mode of studying their design and implications.

The MOMENT has had over 300 public screenings across the world, at FACT, Lakeside Arts, Sheffield DOC/FEST, Ars Electronica, Kendal Calling, Blue Dot, Arts By The Sea, Leeds, Geneva and Reykjavik International Film Festivals, and Aesthetica. We were also invited to  international events: SPARK British Council event in Hong Kong, Brain Film Festival in Barcelona; Riverside Film Festival in Padua. Substantial work has been made to make the touring of the caravan self-sustainable and there are plans to further exhibit throughout 2019.

I have been invited to present my research and engage in panel discussions with the film and computer game industry at: Creative England’s Proconnect conference; Continue Conference; Picturehouse London with B3 Media; Broadway Cinema Nottingham; Geneva and Reykjavik International Film Festival; Sheffield DOC/FEST and FACT Liverpool. Organisations and individuals have since contacted me to ask to work on upcoming projects, to collaborate, and screen the film at their festivals.

The project has now secured funding to screen Live Score performances in 2020. In these performances musicians Hallvarður Ásgeirsson and Scrubber Fox perform the score to The MOMENT as the film is created live from the brain data of an audience member.  The performances are followed by a Q and A with the musicians and myself. We previewed the Live Score in Reykjavík and Nottingham last year to engaged audiences. We are now planning a UK tour for the summer of 2020.

A live score accompaniment for an interactive film is an unique, timely, and relevant proposition, capable of capturing both the public’s imagination and commercial interest. Our tour offers an alternative engagement proposition: creative, interactive live performances that large audiences can experience collectively at local arts venues. This model fits with the  industries move towards marketing cinema as a live experience, both through streaming theatre and music performances to screening venues (e.g. NT Live), and by creating immersive environments in which screenings take place (e.g. Secret Cinema).

The Live Score has the potential to reach larger audiences, including both a wider film industry audience, and members of the public who may not usually engage in academic research. The performances are set to be an exciting and dynamic way to share my research.

VRtefacts Outreach at Derby Museum & Art Gallery

Post by Joseph Hubbard-Bailey (2016 Cohort)

The VRtefVRacts project provides museum and gallery visitors with the opportunity to hold and explore exhibit objects which they would otherwise just look at behind a literal or figurative red rope. Throughout the day, visitors from around the museum were invited to come and put on a VR headset, interact with some 3D-printed VR-augmented models of artefacts, and share their own story or commentary about the objects as they handled them. They then moved into another room for a short interview about the experience, allowing for the next participant to get started with the VR. While previous outreach events I’ve done have felt engaging and productive, none have been as interactive as this VRtefacts trial; others mostly involved having conversations across tables, and the distance and dynamic between researcher and participant felt similar to a campus-based study scenario. Due to the nature of this event, with participants engaging physically and narratively during the session, members of the public seemed much more a part of what was going on, as opposed to passive spectators.

For the visitors who chose to participate in the VRtefacts project, the experience served as both a novel sort of ‘exhibit’ in itself and a novel way to access preexisting materials in the museum’s collection. The latter seemed of particular value in the case of visitors who lived locally and so visited the museum often, offering an unexpected new level of access to familiar objects. The opportunity to contribute or “donate” a story as part of the VRtefacts experience may also have been particularly appealing to those who visit regularly and were keen to ‘give back’ to the museum. Several visitors did fall into this category of ‘regulars’, but there were also plenty of people who were passing through and popped in to pass the time. Visitors across both of these groups commented about how the decision to work with VRtefacts reflected well on Derby Museum, showing its openness to new ideas and resistance to stagnate. For those who were visiting the museum in groups, engaging with the VRtefacts exhibit seemed to provide a great source of interest and conversation, as they emerged and compared experiences. The fact that the corresponding artefacts themselves were available in the museum’s collection also meant that there was a comfortable transition back into the rest of the exhibit, as people could go and find the ‘real thing’ they had just encountered virtually.

Before I left the museum for the day, I sat down on the duct-taped-still chair and had my hairdo sabotaged by the VR headset so that I could have a go at the VRtefacts experience myself. I chose and inspected a small intricate model of a giant jet engine, turning it over and fumbling around the prickly detail of the gaskets while I tried to think of something clever to say for the camera. It reminded me of a frighteningly massive aircraft housed at the RAF Museum in Hendon, where I’d been for relentless school trips as a child due to its proximity to school grounds. I remember cowering through the awful hangar where the scary plane’s wings were so expansive that you had no option but to walk underneath them if you wanted to get out. While this wasn’t a pleasant experience, I think the physicality of being below the Vulcan — which I now know was not just a war plane, but a strategic nuclear bomber — came to mind during VRtefacts because it was a similar example of the power of perspective.

Image credit: Kenneth Griffiths (Ascension Island, 1982)

When an object is in a glass case or on a screen or behind a rope, I think we often instinctively revert to what I can only describe as a ‘flat’ perspective on it. We might press our noses to the glass as children to try and get a closer look, but the glass fogs up and we get told off, so eventually our curiosity wanes and we take a respectful cursory look instead. What this tired perspective gives us is often limited to two-dimensional factual information about the object of interest, without the weight and contour  and color of the object’s life. I’m very glad I decided to have a go with the VRtefacts pilot myself before I left the event, because it made me aware of how cowering under the expanse of the Vulcan’s wings taught me more about the gravity of war than any of my history lessons had. There is a narrative power in an artefact’s physicality which cannot be accessed by simply looking at it — the VRtefacts project has the potential to provide that physicality in a way that protects the original object, which needn’t even be on the same continent as it’s VR counterpart.

Beyond the benefit this technology could offer in enhancing the habitual gallery-goer’s usual experience, there is also potential benefit to those who aren’t so familiar and comfortable with these venues. Having come from a family who didn’t really go to museums or galleries, I still feel quite awkward and out of place in these spaces at times. I don’t think it’s much of a leap to suggest that projects like VRtefacts — which offer more diverse ways of accessing meaning in historical and art objects — have the potential to make galleries and museums not only more engaging for visitors, but more accessible to a diverse range of visitors.

Thanks to Jocelyn Spence and the rest of the VRtefacts team for letting me join in for the day!

VRtefacts is a pilot project developed within the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 727040, GIFT: Meaningful Personalization of Hybrid Virtual Museum Experiences Through Gifting and Appropriation.

–originally posted on Joe’s blog

STEM activity at Loughborough Grammar School

Post by Melanie Wilson (2018 Cohort)

We visited the Loughborough Schools STEM activity which was taking place at Loughborough Grammar School which included pupils from several Loughborough schools. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths and the workshops encourage pupils to design and explore a project based on these criteria. We gave a presentation on the pathway we took when designing, prototyping and manufacturing the Endeavour LED sabre.  We then addressed the need to consider what activities the final product would be used for including any limitations or challenges which might need to be addressed. Finally we talked with the pupils individually and invited them to tell us about their projects and explored options that might be worth thinking about in their design stages and beyond.

More about Mel’s work and activities can be found here.

Lightsabre Mindfulness Fighting

Post by Melanie Wilson (2018 Cohort)

BBC East Midlands visited one of our LED sabre sessions in Sileby. Below is the report they produced. We were very pleased with this article as it gave a good account of the classes and of our manufacture of the ISM Endeavour LED sabre. Despite a few Star Wars references added by the BBC it was accurate and highlighted a number of our values!
Following the visit we were contacted by many interested people including an international media company. As a result the story appeared in a number of  publications. The articles tended to relate more to the Star Wars films and their associated lightsabers. Both StarWars and lightsabres are trademarks of Disney and Lucas films and Intergalactic Sabre Masters Ltd has no affiliation with these trademarks nor their owning organisations. We did not mention these trademarks during any of the interviews and were surprised to see some of the so-called “quotes”! However, there has been a lot of interest as the result of this exposure which has pleased us and there have been several new starters at classes as a result, particularly from the BBC piece. In addition, there have been enquiries from many organisations wishing to book team-building events, lessons and displays. These are coming from people with a wide range of  physical and mental ability and their representative organisations. We are keen to ensure that the activity is open to a diverse range of participants.
—originally posted here

I was also on BBC Radio Leicester to talk about LED sabre manufacture and classes. The LED sabre classes with adults and children are designed to incorporate mindfulness, confidence building and self awareness towards increasing resilience in a fun way. We teach traditional western sword arts, particularly those of the medieval hand and half. We train and spar with LED sabres, designed and manufactured locally, specifically made to be safe, ergonomic and easy to use by children and those with differing physical abilities.

Survival Guide to starting your PhD

Post by Neeshé Khan (2018 Cohort)

I recently came back to university – almost ten years after I graduated. I decided to do a PhD. My jobs have been at prestigious companies with dynamic and intense environments, allowing me to be empowered and thrive at what I do. I decided to let go of lucrative pay and forge something for myself. I set out seeing the PhD as a stepping stone to get me to where I want to be. Of course, I didn’t expect this experience to be a breeze. I’m still fairly new, having just entered my second semester, but here are my top survival tips that might help you going through something similar.

  1. Manage your money – If you come from a working life, salary and money is more of a constant. Cycles that keep replenishing themselves, especially if you’re good at managing it. I am fortunate to get a stipend in the UK but it it’s a drastic difference to my usual monthly pay checks. It’s more important now than ever to stay on top of your finances as this might end up being a long journey if you decide to see if through to the end.
  2. Rely on your support networks – I have been doing this, a. lot. I ended up relocating and this means that I’ve ended up relying a lot more on my existing support networks for emotional support. Feel secure enough to say what you’re feeling without having to put on a brave face. A lot of insights can come out of frank, candid discussions and you might be surprised by some useful nuggets of advise that come your way.
  3. Forge new relationships – go out with your cohort! Life is extremely hectic in a new city, a new environment and doing new things all at once, I know. But don’t use that as an excuse to bail out of socials. It’s really helped me to form close relationships with some of my peers (many of whom are much younger) and even when talking doesn’t help (which for me does not work btw!), just having someone beside you, or having a short conversation with someone who’s company you enjoy or a lecturer, can go a long way to brighten your day and raise your sprit.
  4. Structure your days – I recently had a coaching session with a brilliant person and discovered that some of the source of my feelings came from a lack of structure during my evenings. While I’m good at structuring my day and prioritising, thanks to my work experience, I’ve been rather bad at structuring my evenings. I hadn’t noticed this at all. While it’s okay to put in a little extra as your learning the ropes, it’s also important to have structured evening and to keep yourself engaged in activities you did as part of your working life. So, go to the gym, go out for a meal (a table of one is just fine by me!), go to the theatre or have a karaoke night. But do something that keeps that structure for you.
  5. Reflect, re-evaluate and hang in there – This is a big one. I am quite introspective but it’s important to do little mental checks to see if your project is going in the direction (vaguely at least) that you set out when starting out with the PhD. Your dream can have different versions, sure, but the dream should still be there. If things are aligned, try to hang in there. Everything can seem hard at first but it gets easier.

I broke away from my usual topic pieces but I hope this is useful if anyone is going through something similar, within academia or not. It’s also good for me to have this to reflect back on in a few month’s time.