Praying with Creation: How an engineer learned to meet God outdoors

Lee Abbey snowdrops
© Ruth Bancewicz

If all creation praises God, as it says in the Psalms, how can we join in? This is something that Rachel Oates, has thought about quite deeply over her years as the Environmental Coordinator at Lee Abbey. I met up with Rachel a few weeks ago when I was leading a conference at Lee abbey, and she led a ‘praying with creation walk’ as part of that week. Here, she explains the thinking behind the concept. Continue reading

Fanning the flames: Science and Faith in New Zealand

new-zealand-1182764_960_720-crop
Pixababy. CC0 – Public Domain

Author: Ruth Bancewicz

This week’s post is from a young scientist who has played a key role in galvanising a new science and faith initiative in New Zealand. Jacob (Jake) Martin is a PhD student who has just spent a year studying in Cambridge, but he has also been working hard setting Continue reading

Braids, biogas and banana skins

J.K. Østergaard, freeimages.com
© J.K. Østergaard, freeimages.com

Some scientists are driven by answering questions about how the world works, and others are more interested in applying that knowledge to new problems. Before I interviewed Mike Clifford, I knew him as an engineer who works on appropriate technology at the University of Nottingham. What I found was that he is actually committed to both very technical mathematically-based research, and developing simple solutions to pressing problems. Our meeting was at a Christians in Science conference, and Mike is another example of someone whose faith and work are not so much complementary as indistinguishable.

I chose to study engineering at university because I wanted to do something practical. I was told that I would enjoy a combination of physics and maths, but I found myself enjoying beautiful equations more than anything else, so I rebelled and went on to do a PhD in maths. After several years doing computational modelling and braid and knot theory, I got a job modelling traffic pollution in an architecture department. That was followed by a project on chaotic mixing, and another on composite materials.

I could have easily stayed on the pure side of maths, but I rediscovered my desire Continue reading

Life in the Lab – and the Church

Gustavo Assi in the lab. ©  Gustavo Assi
Gustavo Assi in the lab. © Gustavo Assi

Gustavo Assi is a Naval Architect and Ocean Engineer at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. Here he explains how his faith is relevant to his work, and how he tries to bring scientific conversations to the church (part 1 here.)

In the same way that faith brings purpose to my research and helps me to think about difficult issues, my research brings colour to my faith. It brings the same kind of pleasure and awe that I feel when I am worshipping in my church with a choir and orchestra playing. It’s so colourful, so rich, so enjoyable, and it helps me appreciate that God is there being worshipped! The same thing happens when I am working in the lab, and it makes Continue reading

What makes us creative?

notebook529999_81765483Chris Greene cropped
© Chris Greene, http://www.sxc.hu

We value creativity very highly – in science and every other area of life – but what makes a person creative? Creativity is not correlated to the much-contested score of mathematical and linguistic ability, spatial awareness and memory that is IQ. It also seems that one does not inherit creativity, at least not biologically. What we do know is that creativity can be nurtured. Children who are encouraged to be creative are more likely to be creative as adults, adults are more likely to be creative in certain environments, and the people around us are a vital source of inspiration.[1]

Susan Hackwood was a department head in the famously creative Bell Laboratories, the US telecommunications industry research lab that produced seven Nobel Prizes, and is now a professor of electrical engineering at the University of California. She has taken a professional interest in the cultivation of creativity, and has contributed to the recent book, Exceptional Creativity. Her research has revealed two personality traits and two abilities that must be encouraged in order for creativity to flourish. Continue reading

Affective Computing

It’s not a typo, it definitely is ‘affective‘ computing. Rosalind Picard runs a research group at the MIT Media Lab (very cool intro video) that looks into ways in which computers can interpret and respond to human emotions. She visited the Faraday Institute this week to give a lecture on ‘Playing God? Towards machines that deny their maker’ (which will be online soon). Besides describing some fun and no doubt very useful new technology, such as a sociable robot called Kismet, there was plenty of food for thought.

What I find exciting about Rosalind Picard’s work is that, on top of as her natural fascination at what can be done at an engineering level, she has really thought about the most positive uses of this technology.

One of the main applications of Rosalind Picard’s work in affective computing is for people on the autism spectrum. She has worked directly with people diagnosed with autism to develop systems that help them to interpret and respond to emotion.  For example, they have developed some incredibly sophisticated technology that reads facial expressions and tells the user what they mean. This is an very complicated skill that most people develop intuitively. Think about how many different meanings a smile can have: I like you, I’m pleased to meet you, I’m surprised, I’m shy, I’m embarrassed, and so on. Ros discovered that the easiest way to teach the computers to analyse facial expressions was to ask the individuals with autism themselves – as they have learned this skill the the hard, non-intuitive way.

In her interview for the Test of Faith book Ros also described how they tried to anticipate how this technology could be used against people and to build in features that stop that. For example, if someone is wearing a sensor that indicates their stress levels, they should have control over it so that people cannot manipulate them in any way.

You could look at the output of places like MIT and focus on scifi-like scenarios of robots taking over the world, but this really isn’t the reality…