karen ingram

Fall 2015 | Wing Dyana So | Visual Studies C'16

 Karen Ingram discussing her BioBuilder experience.

Karen Ingram discussing her BioBuilder experience.

Karen Ingram’s diverse work experience and projects embodies the eclectic and dynamic arena of biological design in which she plays a significant role in developing and shaping. Her passion for making science and technology available to everyday people begins with her own interest as an artist and designer, trying to learn more about science and technology herself.

Ingram began as a graphic designer and artist, taking her distinct illustration style across websites, t-shirts, and animations. This background relates to many students in our class, who have a background in traditional and digital media and design. Ingram approaches design as both expertise and guide for her next big projects.

Ingram’s long-time and consistent involvement with South by Southwest (SXSW), an annual, interactive multi-media conference and concert, positioned her in an environment to engage with creatives, technical professionals, and scholars from far-ranging fields across technology and science. As SXSW underwent its own evolution from focusing on interactivity to biohacking,s so did Ingram -- from collaborating with Genspace, Observatory, and the Empiricist League in a crowd-sourced, bacterial painting composed of a mosaic of black-lit petri dishes in 2013, to returning for a second time as the host for the Biohacker Meetup and panel this year in 2015.

Bringing together designers, biologists, engineers, coders, and anyone ‘bio-curious’ to participate, SXSW’s Biohacker event continues the ongoing and exciting discussion on the cutting edge of biohacking and promoting scientific awareness among everyday people. Biohacking, according to Ingram in an interview for SciArt Center, refers to “engaging and tinkering with biology outside of traditional labs...a way to learn more about biotechnology, and biology in general.”

Ingram is as interactive in her interests as she is with the diverse professionals she meets. In addition to her work with SXSW, her others collaborations leave traces of fundamental groundwork that brings the field of biological design to tangible reality. One notable example is Ingram’s illustration and design work for the Biobuilder book, put together through the collaborative efforts between Dr. Natalie Kuldell (instructor of synthetic biology labs at MIT), Rachel Bernstein (science journalist), and Dr. Katie Hart (a Biobuilder master teacher at UC Berkeley). Here, critically considered illustrations come together with relatable metaphors to bring synthetic biology to scholars, artists, designers, and others not already immersed in the science fields.

In addition to exemplifying design as a means to own a creative mind within science, Ingram also emphasized the role designers play in raising and considering critical and ethical questions. Ingram specifically referenced the case of Golden Rice, a genetically modified rice grain with added carotene, developed in Europe. Carotene is a necessary part of the human diet but it is found in a limited number of vegetables. Although Golden Rice could greatly benefit people living in developing and underdeveloped countries that lack access to this vital nutrient, many consumers from developed nations strongly oppose the idea of a genetically modified staple food. The controversy suspended the mass production of Golden Rice.

Before leaving our class and being on her way to the 2015 BioFabricate conference that same week, Ingram provided critical feedback to each of the four groups and their work-in-progress design and project proposals.