Using digital technology for an inspiring mix of art and science

5 May 2017

Keri Kukral. Image:

Digital technology means more possibilities to mix art, science and creativity, according to Inspirefest speaker and Raw Science founder, Keri Kukral.

To say that Keri Kukral has had an interesting career to date is something of an understatement.

A former professional ballerina, she ‘did a 180’ to engineering and then founded Raw Science TV, a science media channel that has scooped stories such as Elon Musk’s plans to send a human to Mars.

Given her background, it’s no surprise that Kukral has decided to speak at Inspirefest in Dublin this summer about how art and science can be combined to tell stories.

Pirouetting into engineering

In school, Kukral focused on her talents in dancing – she was a professional ballerina for a number of years. “I started as a ballet dancer, and I never intended to go to college, let alone be an engineer,” she said.

Her move into engineering was inspired in part by her sister, who was studying the subject at Purdue University. Kukral became interested in biotechnology and also went to university.

“Society likes to sort and silo people: you are an artist or a scientist. But for me, it is art and science, never art or science,” said Kukral.

“For me, it was interesting to do something 180-degree different and, at the time, biotechnology was just being born. There was this new sentiment that scientists in the future were going to need to be creative. So I decided to go to pursue biomedical and electrical engineering.”

Creative drive

Kukral went on to work in the medical devices industry. To fulfil her need for creative expression, she would use her holiday time and disposable income to fly around the world talking to and filming interesting people. “I interviewed Stephen Hawking and the head of space research for Russia,” she recalled. “And a few years ago, I could see that the audience [for science] was quickly draining from TV to the internet, so I thought this could be an opportunity for a company.” 

Pitch perfect

The idea won favour – and seed funds at Caltech and Idealab in 2013 – and, within weeks, Raw Science TV was up and rolling.

The venture soon had big-hitting stories, such as Musk’s Mars ambitions. “He came to do the interview at 11pm for two hours. He was very kind to give us that time to talk about different subjects,” said Kukral. “And he was very calm and very humble. That really stood out.”

US-based Kukral believes it is the inherent curiosity of the team that inspires the interest of the audience, too. “The way we keep ahead is to stay curious and, by staying truly curious, [stories] find us,” she said.

Film festival 

Also keeping her busy at the moment are preparations for the fourth annual Raw Science Film Festival later this year, which showcases and honours science and technology films worldwide.

Standout movies for Kukral at the festival have included Scanning the End (a film about an ancient civilisation uncovered in Mexico using laser technology), Passage to Mars and The Cradle (about a Russian cosmonaut aboard the International Space Station).

One of the goals is to get a national broadcast of the festival, much like the Golden Globes, to keep science media at the forefront, according to Kukral.

Breaking free from silos

Kukral has noted how digital technology is freeing us from silos, and this can benefit the mix of art and science. “Ours is the last generation that will be told art and science are divided,” she said. “So, with some seed funding and online tools, there are lots of possibilities for anyone.”

She also advises that entrepreneurs and innovators “play with the balance of things”, like you might in an experiment. 

“It won’t always be perfect, but then you adjust things,” she said. “And when you get the balance where you are busy but not stressed or unhappy, keep going that way.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book now to get your Early Bird tickets.

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Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication