Britt Wray – University of Copenhagen

Britt Wray

PhD student

Science and Technology Studies Group

Department of Media, Cognition and Communication
Faculty of Humanities

Britt Wray is PhD student at Center for Synthetic Biology where she is part of Maja Horst's group at Department Media, Cognition and Communication. In her PhD she will be focusing on developing new methods for interdisciplinary communication and public engagement with synthetic biology using her art and radio practice.

I study science communication from a wide theoretical and practical perspective, and then apply it more specifically to the topic of synthetic biology. That means that I both research public engagement about science and make media for non-specialist audiences about science, with a particular focus on synthetic biology. I look at the interdisciplinary culture in synthetic biology, which brings not only different types of scientists together in collaborations, but social scientists, humanists, policy makers, legals scholars, and sometimes artists, designers and DIY biologists. I study how they communicate about specific issues in the field. For the practical component of my thesis, I  am using my professional background as a radio producer to create an interactive documentary about synthetic biology and the communication landscape around it. My project brings the multiple perspectives of a diverse group of scientists, entrepreneurs, social scientists, philosophers, artists and activists to fold in on one another through audio diaries that they have been keeping, as well as interactive platform technology for online sharing.

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My undergraduate degree is in biology. During those years of study I was always deeply fascinated with what biotechnology could do from a wider cultural perspective, but I never enjoyed carrying out experiments myself in the lab. I decided to follow my passions for media production (radio) that I developed during those years to study communications, and eventually, fine arts. Whether I was doing radio, or making art, I stayed connected to themes of biology, and often biotechnology in my work. This was during the time that synthetic biology was first getting its footing as the emerging field we recognize it for today, and I began to explore it through media and art projects. For someone who likes to tell stories about science like myself, synthetic biology has proven to be a ripe field for experimentation. It raises far more questions than answers them, and involves diverse groups in discussing its implications.  

I would like my work to be applied in the world outside of academic research. In my broadcasting work, I aim for my projects to raise discussion with diverse audiences who do not need to have any specialized knowledge in order to “get it,” or hopefully, enjoy it. 

I collaborate with many different types of people in my work. Specifically, I have been recently collaborating with synthetic biologists, entrepreneurs, philosophers, artists, policy makers, bioethicists, legal scholars and community organizers. Since I am involved in the mediation and crafting of narratives about science, I often rely on other people sharing their thoughts, beliefs and experiences with me, which then constitutes my raw data. I also collaborate with sound designers, animators and illustrators from time to time, as well as creative programmers who can build my ideas in code for an interactive experience. At the dissemination stage of my research, I work with public broadcasters and networks who air my science documentaries.  

I am motivated to bring stories to life for people (through media production and research) that can contribute to their way of seeing a topic or problem in science. I am extremely honoured to have been offered my first book deal by a publisher once they heard a radio documentary I made about the science and ethics of de-extinction, a topic that is largely tied to synthetic biology.

I am grateful to be funded by the bioSYNergy project, which was chosen as one of the 2016 Projects of Excellence at the University of Copenhagen, and is affiliated with the Center for Synthetic Biology and Department of Media, Communications and Cognition.

When not doing science I like to record sounds, write, do yoga, dance and let the Danish value of leisure time rub off on me (I’m Canadian and the sizeable focus on this here is new to me. It’s a great thing.) 

Get involved
If you're involved in synthetic biology and have interest in the cultural and social implications of the field, she would love to talk to you and perhaps involve you in her PhD research project. If so, please contact Britt at or @brittwray on Twitter.

You can find out a bit more about her here