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WED: 2:00 — 4:50 PM


Professor Victoria Vesna
, Ph.D.
Office hours:  Wednesdays, 1 pm – 2 pm PST or by appointment
Location: Broad Arts, room 5250 (5th floor)

Elizabeth Cooke, Graduate Student @ 
Office hours: Wednesdays 12 – 1 pm PST by appointment

Course Description

DESMA 160 | Special Topics in Design | Media Arts: Biotechnology and Design
Bio-designers use cells, DNA molecules, proteins, and living tissues to highlight ethical, social, and aesthetic issues that influence contemporary life. Introduction to how bio-design blurs distinctions between science and design through combination of design and scientific processes, creating wide public debate. Introduction to new sciences that influence food we eat, clothes we wear, and environment in which we reside. Students challenged to think outside the box, explore divergent and convergent thinking, and seek out knowledge and inspiration from ideas that drive nano- and bio-technology. Peer collaboration encouraged to develop speculative design projects that address issues covered.

Course Goal:
The course goal is to introduce students to new sciences that influence the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the environment we reside in. Students are challenged to think outside the box, explore divergent and convergent thinking, and seek out knowledge and inspiration from ideas that drive nano and biotech while encouraging peer collaboration and theory to practice translation.

Learning Community
The course is a hybrid-learning environment to include in person and online lectures, discussions, student collaborative activities, and field trips. Students will be introduced to world-class research conducted on UCLA campus, UC system and around the globe. Students will be encouraged to physically and/or virtually visit artists’ studios and scientists’ laboratories. Every week will be devoted to a particular theme with required reading, and students will be asked to maintain a blog that incorporates their own ideas in relation to the subject and comment on their peers’ ideas. The midterm and final projects are based on the weekly lectures and blogs. The final letter grade is based on midterm and final projects, class and field trips attendance, as well as in person and weekly blogs participation.

Course Objectives

This honors course explores and surveys the cultural impact of innovations in biotech as well as art inspired by these new sciences through artsci collaborative projects. Students will be introduced to the vast array of cutting edge bio + tech research taking place on campus, in the UC system and around the globe. Students will learn about scientists and artists leading this research via guest lectures either in person or through streaming and recorded videos. Students are encouraged to develop their own research and projects and will have an opportunity to present and/or exhibit their final project at the end of the course. Collaborative groups will be organized for students to develop projects that are in coordination with other media arts classes such as interface design, interactive art, performance and sculpture and will compete to present and/or show/perform the works in an exhibition at the UCLA Art | Sci Gallery at CNSI. Emphasis will be on art projects that use technology and respond to new scientific concepts in bio + tech.

Learning Outcomes

Students will successfully complete the course through evidence of the following:
1. Analysis of diverse scientific concepts and ability to engage in a meaningful discussion with a scientist or artist informed by bio + tech scientific research;
2. Ability to show an understanding of the possibilities of ideas and methodologies that influence contemporary art and science;
3. A broad knowledge of the wide spectrum of new scientific topics that directly influence culture at large;
4. A basic understanding of how social and political contexts influence new scientific and technological innovation and paradigm shifts.
5. Apply the new knowledge to the development of their own projects.

Course Requirements

To successfully complete this course you are required to:

. Attend in person online (zoom) classes.

. Check the course homepage, calendar, module page, your email, and the course discussion board several times a week.

. Keep up with modules’ resources by watching the video lectures, reading required and suggested texts, watching required and suggested videos and accessing related websites.

. Write weekly blog responses to the weekly topics. Your first blog will confirm your enrollment in the course.

. Participate actively on in-person class discussions and posting weekly comments on your colleagues’ blogs and responses.

Course Materials

Recommended books:
What’s Next: Eco Materialism in Contemporary Art by Linda Weintraub

Steps to the Ecology of the Mind by Gregory Bateson

On Growth and Form, D’Arcy Thomson

You should access the course site resources and blogs as often as possible to keep up with the course content.

Other materials will be made available as we move along the various topics and assignments.

Assignments Guidelines

Reading assignments: Weekly reading assignments with viewing of related resources are required for class participation, weekly blog discussions and to complete the midterm and final projects effectively. Students should work with the professor throughout the quarter regarding their research topics for the midterm and final projects.

Blogs: Students will do weekly blogs related to the topics covered and comment on their peers’ blogs. Specifically, they will be looking at the daily news and / or researching books or other resources related to the subject. The blog will be reviewed weekly and graded according to content adequacy and research involved. Blogs should be reflective of the understanding of the material presented in the lectures and readings. Each blog should be between no less than 500 and no more than 1000 words and you are required to have at least 3 embedded images and/or videos, 5 sources/links each and citation of the resources. Your weekly blog should be posted no later than Sunday at 11:59 pm of each week.

Extra credit:  Attend and Blog about an Online Webinar Event related to the topics covered . An event outside of class counts for 2 extra points toward your grade and you are allowed up to 5 extra events.

Midterm and Final


Pick a topic / sub-topic from the subjects we covered so far — based on that we will meet online and split into discussion groups. The goal is to come up with a project proposal that draws from your major. This will be an individual project. You will be coming up with a conceptual idea that could be “impossible” but based on actual science. It is important for you to also refer to artists who work in the area you choose to address. Use the PPT template and submit by Sunday (May 1st).



1. You can touch on any number of topics / go in any number of directions that is somehow connected to what we have covered / seen in class up to now.

2. Your proposal can be practical / humorous / fictional /  academic. Regardless of your approach — you need to show research to back up your concept / idea.

3. Connect to your strengths — use knowledge you have from your major or extra-curricular interests.

4. Illustrate your idea with images you collage together or do your own photography / drawing.  (make sure to credit your source if not original)

5. If you know someone who is really good at drawing / illustration / photography — don’t shy away from asking for help — as long as it it your concept they are illustrating and you credit them properly. I encourage collaboration!

6. Follow the guidelines on the web for the size of images / how to upload.

7. Do not hesitate to contact me or your TA if you have questions!

FINAL: We will create a series of topic based books. See example book created by former Honors 177 class. This will be discussed and planned together in the last three weeks of class.

Approximately 3000 words, double-spaced with a max of 7 images, no larger than ½ page. MLA format — In the upper left-hand corner of the first page, list your name, Professor, TA, Honors 177: Biotechnology and Art

It is OK to reference movies and books but you are still required to include at least one artist related to the innovation and or topic you are writing about. Have at least 10 direct references and 20 in your bibliography.

Additionally — compile all of your blogs into one document, write a paragraph summary about what you have been writing, learning / save as a PDF and upload.

Final Upload Guidelines


A final letter grade is based on the assignments (midterm presentation—20%, final project—30%, blog journal—30%, events attendance+blogging—10%, class participation + attendance + effort – 10 percent).

Final Grade Calculation
10% Events – events/attendance+blogging
10% Participation + Attendance + Effort
30% Blogging – 10 blogs (3 pts each)
20% Midterm
30% Final
100% TOTAL

Discussion Blogs

How To Create a Blog Post

On the right side bar, select My Blog to open your blog post options. 

My Blog

On the new window select Post New Blog Post to create a new post.

How To Blog

You are required to participate in blogs on selected topics each week. Posting to the blog is an extension of the learning community where students can share ideas and learn from one another. Your contributions to the blog will be graded based on the criteria in the Blog Evaluation Rubric.

Weekly Topic’s Posts:
Your weekly blogs should be posted no later than Sunday at 11:59 pm of each week. It’s important that you do not repeat what others have already said. As stated in the rubric, your post should reflect your own ideas that contribute meaningful thought to the discussion. You will want to remember that the expectations are academic, therefore I expect careful attention to grammar, punctuation, spelling, and word choice.

Posts Guidelines:

  • Posts Length: no less than 500 no more than 1000 words. Your goal what should be approximately three to four paragraphs of thoughtfully prepared information based on assignments for each week.
  • Images & Videos: You should have 3 images/videos embedded in your post. They should show your visual understanding of the content.
  • Sources & Links: You should have at least 5 sources/link references related to the topic. These can be link to websites, artists or scientists profiles, labs, media etc. You should use the resources available in the topic content.
  • Citation: Every time you add text, images, video to your post you need to write  the title and where it came from. Post the citations at the end of your post in a MLA format. Use the Most Recent Edition of the MLA Style Manual.

Response to Classmates: You are expected to post at least one response to a classmate by Tuesday midnight. Your responses will need to show an understanding of your classmate’s ideas, and may include questions for clarification or for further discussion.

Closing Dates and Late Submissions:

  • Your weekly blog should be posted no later than by Sunday at 11:59 pm of each week.
  • Responses to your classmates should be posted no later than Tuesday midnight.
  • Late submissions will be accepted with a valid excuse and have to be submitted no later than one week late.

Helpful Tip: Prepare your message in your word processing program first, and then paste it into the message box. Content/learning management systems can be very temperamental and this will avoid the frustration of losing your work.

Blogging Guidelines:

  • Review in detail the Blog and Writing Rubrics to understand your responsibilities for weekly contributions.
  • Posts should be written in your own words; do not paraphrase from websites, textbooks, lectures, or other outside resource.
  • While you are not being asked to write a formal essay, you are expected to develop a thoughtful and clear thesis as well as a comprehensive analysis based on the week’s assignment and resources.
  • Posts should reflect Independent research to enhance your thesis as well as to present new examples of work (artwork or/and science research projects) in the field.

Instructor Feedback: Professor and TA t will monitor blogs to ensure that students are grasping course content, and to provide guidance.

Grading: Your blogs will be evaluated based on your understanding and insights of weekly topics, level of participation, quality of contributions, and the criteria found in the Blog Evaluation Rubric next.


Your individual performance will be evaluated for each weekly topic (see evaluation criteria below)

• You will be evaluated on the level of your participation and the quality of your contribution

• The following grading rubric will be used to evaluate your Discussion Blog posts.

 Exceeds Expectations(3 points)Meets Expectations(2 points) Approaches Expectations(1 points)Does Not Meet Expectations(0 point)
Level of ParticipationActively participates by posting early, and takes initiative to engage with thoughtful follow-up comments.Posts the weekly blog early — by Sunday, 11:59 PMPosts the comment early — by Tuesday, 11:59 PM Participates at an acceptable level by posting a preliminary message and cursory follow-up comments.Posts the weekly blog by Tuesday 11:59 PM.Participates, but posts are infrequent and/or too late to effectively engage others.Misses the deadlines.Does not participate at an acceptable level.Does not post.
Quality of ContributionsContributions are insightful, original, and reflective, indicative of a strong understanding of the topic. Responses to others are meaningful and engaging.Posts no less than 500, no more than 1000 words. Has 3 images/videos embedded in the post.Has at least 5 sources/link references related to the topic.Post the citations at the end of the post in a MLA format.Contributions indicate a general understanding of topic. Responses to others show a general understanding of their ideas and insights.Has 2 images/videos embedded in the post.Has at 2 sources/link references related to the topic.Has all citations at the end of the post but MLA format are incomplete or not formatted properly. Contributions indicate some understanding of topic. Responses to others lack engagement and understanding.Has 1 image/video embedded in the post.Has 1 source/link reference related to the topic.Has incomplete citations at the end of the post and/or MLA format are incomplete or not formatted properly.Contributions  and responses to others are often off the mark, or include irrelevant information, indicating a weak understanding of the topic.Does not have images or videos in the postDoes not have sources/link references related to the topic.Does not post the citations at the end of the post in a MLA format. 
Communicating through WritingAble to communicate using correct grammar, punctuation, spelling and word choice with ability to communicate thoughts and ideas with meaning in a concise and effective manner.Few flaws in grammar, spelling, punctuation and word choice; ideas and thoughts are communicated generally well.Flaws in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and/or word choice; writing needs improvement to communicate thoughts and ideas  more effectively.Many mistakes in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and/or word choice, interfering with effective communication of ideas.


Q: Could I use the readings/ videos  assigned to us as some of the 5 references?  Or should I be looking for other resources like newspapers/ academic articles? 
A: Either is fine. We encourage you to search for further references when inspired by the topic.

Q: Also how should we cite images?
A: Link to where the image suffices