FAST Research Seminar Series Science & Art+

April saw the last instalment, for this academic year, of the Research Seminar Series. This was a cross-disciplinary session covering Science and Art+, with three speakers discussing a variety of topics and Dr Amiya Chaudhry chairing proceedings. 

Shivani Sanger, forensic anthropology postgraduate researcher, introduced attendees to the topic of Evaluation of the validity of FORDISC software in the Greek-Cypriot population and techniques for reassociation between the basilar cranium and first cervical vertebra. Shivani gave an overview of Forensic Anthropology (the analysis of human remains for medical and legal purposes) and Humanitarian Forensic Anthropology (natural disasters or missing persons cases), detailing how co-mingled remains are identified e.g.  human vs non-human, adult vs sub-adult and biologically male vs biologically female.

Impacts of the 1974 Cyprus War were highlighted and the efforts of the Cypriot Committee on Missing Persons (CMP), who are dedicated to recovering, identifying and repatriating missing individuals, were discussed. Shivani provided some key details on FORDISC software, which is used to determine the statistical probability of sex, age, ancestry and stature of remains, based on the 13 current population samples within the database. 

The aim of Shivani’s research is to develop a method for re-associating the first cervical vertebra (C1), including the basilar section of the cranium in a contemporary Greek-Cypriot skeletal population dating from 1976-2003 by analysing skeletal sex and ancestry estimation on adult craniums using FORDISC. Statistical models for the re-association of the basilar portion of the cranium and the C1 for adult males and females in commingled remains will be developed and tested. 

An overview of the methodological approach including key cranium measurements, equipment and software was provided.

Fig. 1 Anterior view of cranial measurements (Langley et al., 2016)

Fig. 2 Basilar portion of the cranium measurements (Langley et al., 2016)

Shivani’s aim is to provide forensic anthropologists with metric data to be used in missing people's cases, mass disasters and human-rights abuse cases, hopefully adding to the population on FORDISC. We look forward to the progression of this research. 

Next up was BSc Biochemistry student, Veronica Bianco talking about the Investigation of microbial growth dynamics and diversity in Kombucha brewing stages. The history of Kombucha, a traditional fermented tea, was presented alongside the crafting / fermentation process. Whilst the fermentation process is fairly simple, it was noted that the process hinges on maintaining optimal conditions to prevent contamination and ensure the desired balance of flavour and bioactivity. Veronica’s research focused on understanding how microbial communities influence the Kombucha brewing process, in two stages. 

Kombucha's fermentation is driven by a symbiotic relationship between YEAST and BACTERIA. SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) is a starter culinary symbiotic fermentation culture. Veronica’s studies were designed to examine how microbial interactions affect the SCOBY development and the overall quality of Kombucha. 

Veronica shared that contamination or imbalances in the microbial community can adversely affect the taste, appearance, and safety of the beverage. The first stage of the research was the examination of Kombucha fermentation across four distinct batches. The fermentation process was then tracked and samples taken at various stages were frozen using Liquid Nitrogen for preservation and later analysis. The research was impacted by some time constraint issues but observations revealed consistent contamination in the mass spectra of all batches run with Nitrogen and Helium gases.

Fig. 3 Sugar ready to be mixed with tea

The second stage of the research focused on the diverse microbial ensemble within Kombucha fermentation to examine their potential impact on SCOBY development and the beverage's sensory attributes. To this end, a rigorous process of culturing and subculturing four distinct microbial batches was employed, each selected to explore how different strains of yeast and bacteria could enhance the health benefits of the beverage. Specifically, the manipulation of these strains was aimed at understanding which microbial combinations could be most beneficial for addressing specific health issues, such as gastrointestinal problems. This involved introducing specific bacteria and yeasts into the tea, observing their behaviours and interactions, and assessing their ability to produce beneficial acids and other compounds in symbiosis.

As part of the sterilisation process (autoclaving of the sweetened tea medium at 121°C) the Maillard reaction inadvertently occurred, this reaction is responsible for the characteristic flavour and aroma of browned food.
Cultivating SCOBY from scratch presented a series of challenges, particularly in maintaining an optimal environment for microbial growth and avoiding contamination, highlighting the delicate balance required in SCOBY cultivation. 

Fig. 4 Bacteria strains used for creating SCOBY

This research lays the groundwork for future studies aimed at refining fermentation practices and exploring the Maillard reaction's impact on Kombucha's sensory and microbial attributes.

Closing proceedings was Dr Paul Jones, Senior Lecturer in Fine Art, talking about DATAMOSH and ‘Arts and Technology’

DATAMOSH is a collaborative project run by Paul and Guy Mayman, Lecturer in Fine Art and Applied Arts and it is “an artistic exploration of the archival field, moving between presentation and narrative.”

The project started when Paul and Guy found hundreds of cassette tapes and educational slides in a skip outside a college, items that had been discarded due to ever advancing technology. These items were viewed as important snapshots of history that once held the power of sharing knowledge. Paul and Guy were keen to “Reanimate” this obsolete technology and they were lucky enough to find an old projector in the Art School that played the cassettes and slides, bringing the dated authoritarian voices of education and the changing slide images of varying quality, back to life. These pieces of technology were once cutting edge and the promises made around the world of possibilities that they held the key to, are part of the alure for DATAMOSH. DATAMOSH was born! Looking at objects and entities and their observational properties and what they mean to society.

Paul played a video of a DATAMOSH experience/ exhibition, with Guy using his sculpting background and Paul using his performance art background to turn slides, tapes and books into something fluid, mysterious and sublime within a space where spectators can be participants. 

Using an array of technology within the performances, students are invited to participate and there is a digitally distorted loop of images set to a background of music that gives a nod to the 90s rave scene. These performances often become other things, such as videos, sound works or LPs. 

Paul detailed that time is an important aspect of DATAMOSH, with the belief that time is not linear, it is in fact interwoven. Generative AI is also an interesting element of DATAMOSH, adding hallucinogenic visuals to the experience. 

It just goes to show that the age old saying ’one person’s junk is another person’s treasure’ is certainly true in this instance! 

Thank you to all of the speakers throughout the series this year and we look forward to its return next academic year.