DSP003 - Kat Austen on DIY science, art practice, and creating empathy with the environment

In this episode we are really happy to present Kat Austen. She is an independent artist and researcher based primarily in Berlin. Starting from a deep concern for the environment she trained as a chemist, with a PhD on sources of anthropogenic pollution.

pH meter circuit-bending. photo courtesy of Kat Austen

However, whilst science and the scientific method is still the foundation of how she understands the world, she felt that the analytical methods she was using as a scientist lacked some broader understanding and didn’t connect to the urgency for action that she felt. So, in parallel to her research she studied mixed media and art, eventually leaving academia to build up her own art practice, working as a journalist to support herself financially through the transition.

A big strand of her artistic work that we talk about in the podcast uses DIY science and co-creation methods to connect different communities, eg. school kids or local residents associations, to environmental concerns. As a workshopologist she uses practical experience of scientific methods, like testing locally-caught fish for the presence of microplastics, to create a deeper, lived understanding of our connection to and impact on the environment. Then by co-creating exhibitions with workshop participants they create a shared narrative that everyone feels ownership of.

DIY spectrometry to study food. photo courtesy of Kat Austen

In her work, Kat explores topics around the interaction of people and their environment, visualising concepts that rarely make it into the daily experience of the people she works with. Kat went foraging with young adults in the parks of London, she gets people to empathise with corals, and brings the visible effects of global warming in the arctic directly to us.

While Kat lives in Berlin, she is partly funded by a fellowship in Leeds. We speak with her about the issues in DIY science funding, how funding bodies could improve, and what difficulties independent hackers, scientists and artists face when trying to sustainably work on projects and follow a partly nomadic lifestyle.

Coral Empathy Device. photo courtesy of Kat Austen

Go and see Kat’s work: 

Spektrum Exhibition 2-4 May Alien Organs with a performance from The Matter of the Soul on Saturday 3rd of March at 20:30 with Hiroshi Matoba




Kat’s website
Vital project
Sushi roulette
Artist in the Arctic at Friends of Scott Polar Research Institute
Cultural Fellow in Art and Science at the University of Leeds
Get in touch with Kat

Get in touch with us on twitter.

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The DIY Science Podcast by Lucy Patterson and Joram Schwartzmann is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at diysciencepodcast.org.