Tobie works on the notion that when science raises profound ethical and social issues, society as a whole needs to take part in the debate. His project Material Beliefs is funded by public engagement money from the sciences (EPSRC). He does speculative design based on science and engineering research, and how such research is communicated normally, using ideas from science and technology studies to reflect on his work.
One example of such speculative design is the Bio Jewellery project which made bonerings for couples using their own bone cells that were grown in a lab after harvesting them from an extracted wisdom tooth. The project needed to go through a one year ethics permission process. It came into the press and many people responded they wanted to be involved. A venture capitalist responded and an ethicist. This altogether raised a rather broad discussion in which many non-scientists participated. It resulted in exhibitions and a public event in the Dana Centre of the Science Museum in London.
A second example is the material beliefs project. It focuses on scientists working on hybrid areas, bringing technology in biological matter and vice versa. Robots with a stomach that digests flies to have energy, for instance. How should be perceive such hybrids? And what rights should a hybrid have if it has as much brain cells as a dog has?
Tobie works with the institute for biomedical engineering at Imperial College in London, were many different disciplines collaborate. They focus on how biology and technology talk to each other. This starts to work now from both sides so hybrid constructions are becoming possible. An example they have now is a digital plaster which has several sensors and an antenna to broadcast metrics for instance to your mobile phone or to your doctor. It acts as a bridge between human and technology. Also this idea was brought to the public in a public event at the Science Museum in London. A diabetes patient came forward and she was consequently invloved in further development of the idea of the digital plaster, focused on reording data of how her pancreas works and the insuline she uses. She is taking part as a expert on her own experiences.
The project now looks at how ‘loops’ (such as the insuline you use with a drip on your arm) are managed and experienced.
So what practices does Tobie see as useful in his work? There are a few: making labs permeable, designers taking on science, engineers dabbling with engagement, exposing documents, faults, and the complexity of lab experiments, and, to sum up: using design to situate science.