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History of Design Researcher Hosts Science Museum Radio Show

Royal College of Art History of Design Research student Emily Candela is behind ATOMIC Radio – a Science Museum Art Programme project exploring the relationship between the arts and the science of X-ray crystallography, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. ATOMIC Radio is currently airing on Resonance 104.4FM on Fridays throughout June.

Six episodes will explore different aspects of X-ray crystallography's longstanding relationship with, and influence over, the arts. Here, we talk to Candela about its production and how it started from her RCA research:

How did ATOMIC Radio start?

I'm doing my PhD between the Royal College of Art History of Design programme and the Science Museum through a Collaborative Doctoral Award. It's about the relationship between the science of X-ray crystallography – which reveals the structures of atoms that make up molecules by shining X-rays through crystals – and design. From the beginning of my PhD, I wanted to take advantage of being part-based at the Science Museum to extend the reach of my research and allow me to share it more publicly.

The science of X-ray crystallography traffics in the invisible, the micro-cosmos of atoms and molecules. My proposal to the Science Museum Art Programme was for 'an invisible exhibition' – an exploration of X-ray crystallography and its strange and unexpected relationships with design and art, through sound. That's ATOMIC Radio. 

What sort of objectives do you have for the series?

ATOMIC Radio is a way for me to share my research in a more public way, rather than only within academia. It's also a tool for me to think about the topic in new ways, so it serves as a research method and a kind of writing itself. I wanted the show to be quite personal. My aim for it is to be not so much about the science and its impact from a dispassionate distance, but to be more about me and the listeners discovering it. The aim is for the show to embody the sense of perpetual discovery, even uncertainty that is inherent in the research process. Because of this, I write and host each episode from my point of view. It is, however, an extremely collaborative project.

Who do you work with to produce the show?

I work with a co-producer Chris Dixon, a communication genius who has guided me in working out ways to make the rather obscure science of X-ray crystallography accessible to non-experts while preserving its subtleties and mystery. He hosts a sport radio programme, and I can't imagine a better editor than someone with his background and skills.

We also make creative use of sound as a component of writing, and I’m collaborating with two talented sound designers: Sam Conran, an MA Design Interactions student at the RCA, and Emmett Glynn. We're making sound artworks inspired by X-ray crystallography that are integrated into each episode. Right now, we're working on a radio play segment that takes place inside the molecular structure of a protein from a sperm whale.

How did you select the themes and speakers for each episode?

X-ray crystallography is the perfect subject for a radio show because even though it is not well-known by name, the science focuses on many everyday, familiar materials. It has very poetic qualities because of its technique of shining X-rays through crystals and inferring their internal atomic structures. These are simply things that I love about it, and they determined the themes such as the role of fiction in science (episode two, 'Atomic Fiction'), and the principle of breaking something down into tiny pieces in order to understand it (episode three, 'To Break Into Pieces').

Each episode focuses on a piece of art or design that responds to that theme, and I bring guests on to the show who I think might have something illuminating to say about my own most nagging questions on a given topic. In a way it is very much a way of doing my own research, but out loud.

What does ATOMIC Radio bring to your research?

ATOMIC Radio is a writing experiment that allows me to expand beyond what I do in my written thesis. It is a very different kind of writing, not only because it is ultimately delivered by my voice, but also because so many other elements are at my disposal. For instance, I find myself asking what if the sound of a lift came in during the second paragraph, or how my words might harmonise in conjunction with a sound loop with glass breaking backwards.


ATOMIC Radio is broadcast as a six-part series: a half hour episode comes out each week between 23 May – 27 June on Resonance 104.4 FM.