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MML Video Explores Morphing Matter From Home


screenshot of Lining Yao speaking during the lab video "Morphing Matter is...?"


In a typical year, Assistant Professor Lining Yao and some of her students would travel to Linz, Austria, to attend Ars Electronica. But as we all know too well, the year 2020 is anything but typical so far.

Ars Electronica STARTS (Science + Technology + Arts) Journeys asked everyone to stay where they were and invited all artists to submit video tours of their own environments.

In an effort to stay positive during trying times, Yao and her students signed up to showcase their on-campus home, the Morphing Matter Lab.

“I think it is so important that at this moment we keep our momentum, spirit and curiosity,” said Yao. 

Before the pandemic, the Morphing Matter Lab referred to a specific location at Carnegie Mellon University where researchers gathered to study the intersection of design and morphing materials. However, when campus closed in March and the stay at home order was announced, the Morphing Matter Lab members (affectionately known as "morphers") left campus with the equipment needed to continue their research.

“Many of my students, especially international students, saw the lab as their home. They used to stay in the lab in the nights and over the weekend, not because they were forced to do so but because they love what they do and they like to hang out with others,” Yao said. “I remembered when I was a student, research freedom meant so much to me. I came to the US for the sake of learning to be a researcher and I enjoyed it. But now my students (and I) could not regularly access the lab anymore, what is the new center of life? Can we continue doing what we love to do? It is important to adapt in whichever way safe and possible, and keep our intellectual freedom.”

The team of morphers met virtually to explore the challenge of explaining their lab. They decided on the thought provoking question “Morphing matter is...?”.

The students self-recorded their individual videos while social distancing in their respective locations. A small team of five assembled the final piece.

Through this video, the morphers remind us that their research is not confined to the walls of the lab, but rather the idea is everywhere. Labmates may be dispersed around the world, but their work and commitment to turning fictional futures into reality is ongoing. 

Watch the video below.


Video description (provided):
“As the physical embodiment of AI, morphing material is a new concept in science and technology. However, purely technology-oriented solutions are often short-sighted, biased and sometimes misleading. We use our own voice and our own creations to interpret and reinterpret the meaning of morphing material. Even when our physical bodies are separated from each other by a global pandemic, our consciousness is still connected. With this video, the morphers from the Morphing Matter Lab hope to take the audience out of reality for a moment and create a hopeful world in which Morphing Matter can help resolve the social, environmental, and political crises we face.”

About Ars Electronica:
Ars Electronica Festival for Art, Technology and Society took place September 9-13, 2020. The video commission was co-funded by the European Commission’s DG CONNECT, in the framework of the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Union under the S+T+ARTS initiatives Regional STARTS Centers.