Collective Sounds of Happy Places

When I was 10 I traveled to India, and I was mesmerised by the vibrant assembly of street sounds. Bright flashes of jiggling chimes coming from the women’s anklets, swishing sounds of women’s colourful Saris floating after them, and the jolly sounds of monkeys jumping and playfully hanging from buildings. Rickshaws horns, loud discussions and the entrance bell of temples _Ghanta sounds. But the most vivid memory I have is the echoes of a street performer, a snake charmer having a Cobra dancing to the tune of flute. It is not a picture that could be forgotten easily, when the snakes’ body becomes a vessel to carry the sounds of the flute, when the snake is resonating with the vibrations of the flute and resembling the sound in its movement. Now years later, as an architect and urban researcher, the questions are lingering, how are urban sounds, or the sounds that are within our living places, bound to vibrate through us? How the spatial sounds affect our moods and happiness?

Curious as ever, when I met Lark McIvor, musicologist and University of Edinburgh PhD researcher, neither of us could stop discussing sounds and places, and so the idea of this project was instigated. What if we could document the sounds of a happy place? How can we ask people with no background in music to express the sounds of a place that has made them happy?

Collective Sounds of Happy Places was a Digital Workshop, sponsored by the Festival of Creative Learning 2020. The Festival of Creative Learning is a series of programmes at The University of Edinburgh that has been at the forefront of encouraging Creative Learning through practice. This workshop aimed to help participants explore their happy places in the lockdown put in place for the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. During the workshop, participants from all across the world explored their respective happy places, breaking it down to its spatial features. Next, participants learnt and applied “Graphic notation” practices to the sounds they experienced in their chosen happy spaces, creating music scores. “Graphic notation” is a form of writing music apart from traditional notation. It is the representation of musical ideas using visual symbols and was employed to document people’s happy places during the lockdown and the sounds that are heard in those spatial settings. Following the workshop participants’ scores were sent to a team of musicians to be recorded and accordingly the collective sounds of happy places were brought to life through a music piece.

To explore participants’ happy places, watch the “Collective Sounds of Happy Places” video, that is composed of participant’ shared music scores, photos and videos of their happy places.

Participants were told to capture the sounds of their “Happy Place” during the Covid-19 lock down. It could have been a corner of their home or a nearby place they would pass during daily walks; no matter where it was, it was a place that has made them happy. In the end, all but one of the participants composed their happy places’ music scores based on nature and green spaces, which might not speak favourably of the architecture of our cities. For it seems all the facilities that architecture has provided for us, rather leave us with a hunger for wildlife. Andrea Palladio, one of the most influential renaissance architects, in his “Quattro libri dell’architettura” renders obtaining happiness as the reason cities were formed to begin with. Palladio explains,

“It being very probable, that man formerly lived by himself ; but afterwards, seeing he required the assistance of other men, to obtain those things that might make him happy, (if any happiness is to be found) naturally fought and loved the company of other men: whereupon of several houses, villages were formed, and then of many villages, cities, and in these public places and edifices were made.”

Palladio, Andrea. The Four Books of Architecture. Edited by Isaac Ware. 1965 ed. Dover Publications, 1738. (see page 90)

After centuries of building and rebuilding cities, it is about time to gauge how fruitful were our efforts, and if the cities we are living in are making us happy. 


Palladio, Andrea. The Four Books of Architecture. Edited by Isaac Ware. 1965 ed. Dover Publications, 1738.

I thank Theodora Sakellaridou for her exemplary support and the immaculate festival organisation. To follow up these ideas in more detail see #UoE_FCL  #FCLUoE  #TheUniversityofEdinburgh

About the Author

Negar Ebrahimi is an architect and a skilled consultant in spatial analysis with a Master of Science focused on Spatial Design: Architecture and Cities from The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. Prior to her studies at the Bartlett, she co-founded an architecture firm with a demonstrated history of working in the architecture & planning industry. Negar is completing a PhD in Architecture at the University of Edinburgh. She is passionate about promoting people’s wellbeing through architecture and urban design and her current research interests focus on the correlation between happiness and spatial design. When she isn’t working, you’ll find Negar reading Persian Poetry. That doesn’t tell you much, right? You’ll find more on her LinkedIn page

Sponsored Post Learn from the experts: Create a successful blog with our brand new courseThe Blog is excited to announce our newest offering: a course just for beginning bloggers where you’ll learn everything you need to know about blogging from the most trusted experts in the industry. We have helped millions of blogs get up and running, we know what works, and we want you to to know everything we know. This course provides all the fundamental skills and inspiration you need to get your blog started, an interactive community forum, and content updated annually.

Harmonic Function

On the 5th March 2020, EASTBIO first-year PhD student Eddie Martin organised a concert with a difference. The performers? Researchers in the fields of Biological Sciences and/or Music. Their instruments? Computer programming languages. The audience? Enjoying a healthy mix of inspiration, entertainment, and bemusement.

This event welcomed all to the diverse and overlapping worlds of sonification, algorithmic music composition, and live-coding/algorave. I will now interrupt this article for some basic definitions:

Sonficiation – Turning data to (non-speech) sound. Think heart-rate monitors or Geiger counters.

Algorithmic Music Composition – Writing music using an algorithm with minimal human input. (Mozart used grids and dice. Nowadays we use computer programming languages.)

Live Coding – On the spot interactive programming for artistic improvisation.

Algorave – A subculture centred on live coding, and also a term for a club nights or gig featuring live coding.

Eddie Martin, a student at the University of Edinburgh, hosted the event and performed first. He shared three pieces from his research, each of them turning protein sequences to sound. His first piece showcased his method of sonification with simple instrumentation (1 – link at bottom of page). He followed this with a poignant and educational sonification of the molecular cause of Huntington’s disease (2). Eddie finished with a spectacle: a live-mixed performance of his Human SARS coronavirus replicase sonification, accompanied by a 3-d animated viral visualisation (3).

Dr. Michelle Phillips (Royal Northern College of Music) and Dr. Nicholas Weise (Manchester Institute of Biotechnology) shared their collaborative project ‘Music and Mutation’. This work involved the sonification of DNA nucleotides, and the audience were treated to a video of their compositions performed by a string trio (4). This work investigates the audience’s perception and response to algorithmically composed sonification pieces, especially in non-scientific contexts. the work simultaneously investigates the use of sonification as a tool to teach difficult Biological topics, such as codon optimisation.

Dr Shelly Knotts | ‘Molecular Soundscapes’

Dr. Shelley Knotts (Durham University), a renowned live-coder and international performer, treated the audience to two pieces. The first was ‘Molecular Soundscapes’ (pictured), a collaboration with computational chemist Dr. Agnieszka Bronowska (Newcastle University). This performance included sonification of molecular biological properties and drug design processes in Dr. Bronowska’s work (5), and a demonstration of software developed to visualise and interact with the sonification.

Shelley’s second piece of live coding was ‘AlgoRIOTmic Grrrl!’, a remixing and repurposing of ‘90s Riot Grrrl music to create angry dance music which evoke the revolutionary spirit of feminist punk. This work highlights the need to create space for women in electronic and computer music scenes and draws parallels between algorave and punk subcultures (6). Shelley’s performance provided a raucous and mischievous note to end the evening on.

This event was kindly supported by EASTBIO and the Festival of Creative Learning.

Sound/Video Links:







Performers Links:

Students as Change Agents

This programme brought out the best in me and gave me the opportunity to work with teams from diverse backgrounds. In addition, I had the chance to sharpen my critical thinking skills and presentation skills

Students as Change Agents participant – February 2020

Created by the Careers Service and the Data Driven Innovation Programme Office, Students as Change Agents is an experiential learning programme that brings students from different academic disciplines together to tackle real-world complex challenges. Across Flexible Learning Week, 22 students volunteered to spend time working in interdisciplinary teams using data and creative thinking to address some real-world challenges set by external partners.

In just five days, four teams addressed huge questions on women’s financial equality, reducing youth homelessness, and helping the construction industry contribute to the circular economy. On day five they each presented a short video and written report to their industry experts and hosted a Q&A on their findings.

It was a whirlwind week which started with students meeting each other for the first time, quickly followed by an introduction to Team Dynamics delivered by the Social Enterprise Academy Scotland. A key element of the Change Agent programme is about helping students understand themselves better and how they best work in a multi-personality team. Facilitated conversations about teamwork undoubtedly help foster mutual understanding with students and acts as a catalyst for collaborative learning – which is essential in such a tight timeframe.

Following a session led by EFI’s Cat Magill on Defining Problems with Data, students met their industry partners for an introductions to their challenge question. Having external partners meet with and present to students is an integral component of the programme. Not only does it allow students to build their professional networks in a way their traditional HE learning doesn’t tend to, it is also a fantastic opportunity for external partners to meet students outside of a recruitment setting and to witness how they think and engage with challenges.

In the subsequent days, groups also received further training from EFI and Edinburgh Innovations on good ideas, pitching solutions and developing positive attitudes. There was also the opportunity for peer-to-peer feedback as groups tested their thoughts with each other and shared suggestions on how to improve.

Following successful presentation events to industry experts, students shared their thoughts on the programme. Every participant in the end programme said they would recommend taking part to other students and others highlighted that although it was a challenging experience it had ultimately been extremely rewarding.

The Students as Change Agents programme showed me I’m capable of so much more than I thought. I had fun every step of the way but also pushed myself to work harder than I am used to and the whole experience taught me so many valuable lessons

Students as Change Agents participant February 2020

The week turned out to be a great experience and I learned about the challenge as well as developed myself much more than I had anticipated

Students as Change Agents participant February 2020

The programme was friendly to students from any backgrounds and allowed students to develop a notion on what their future career team work is going to be like

Students as Change Agents participant February 2020

Flexible Learning Week 2020 Challenges & Video Links:

1) How can the construction industry use digital technology to contribute to the circular economy?

Partner: Robertson are one of the UK’s largest family-owned construction, infrastructure and support services businesses.

Circular Economy Challenge Video – SAChA February 2020

2) How can Scotland change to reduce youth homelessness?

Partners: Clan Childlaw is a unique legal and advocacy service for children and young people delivering free, confidential legal advice and representation in Edinburgh, the Lothians and Glasgow. They are partnered in this challenge by Shelter Scotland, a campaigning organisation helping over half a million people every year, who struggle with bad housing or homelessness, through advice, support and legal services.

Youth Homelessness – Rural Community Bus Scheme
Q24 | Introduction

3) How can society fairly support women in the UK to develop long-term financial resilience and capability?

Partner: Part of Lloyds Banking Group, Scottish Widows have been helping people plan their financial futures for over 200 years. This challenge question builds on work by the Chartered Insurers Institute which is a professional body dedicated to building public trust in the insurance and financial planning profession.

SACHA Challenge Feb 2020 – Financial Equality

This was the third delivery of Students as Change Agents and only the second to run across Flexible Learning Week. We are still learning and making continuous improvements. If you would like to learn more about the programme or receive copies of the written reports, please email or visit our web pages

Art and Science on a Postcard 2020

by Jack O’Shea

I think it is safe to say that one of life’s great pleasures is meeting someone who is interested in your passions. Putting hard work and effort into something can often feel unrewarding, but when your enthusiasm is reciprocated there is arguably no greater feeling. 

On a windy Thursday behind the curtain of the Forest Café that artists and scientists alike enthused about their work. Mixers are always scary.  What if nobody likes each other and there’s nothing to talk about? However it soon became clear that the artists and scientists were more than compatible, and no matter how hard we tried we could not get anyone to participate in the mixer questions. The conversations were simply flowing too well. There were clay sculptures and fish bones being passed around as well as copious amounts of coffee being consumed. The art forms ranged from clay to AR programming and the fields of science showed similar diversity. That night there was truly a collection of crazy, brilliant minds sitting at the small tables of the Forest Café.  The artists had been matched up with a scientist each, based on the feedback given after the speed dating mixer and given a week to prepare ideas for their postcards. The week passed and we met at the ASCUS lab to put those ideas into practice.

The ASCUS lab was packed with paints, felt, clay, hairdryers, glue, card and many other materials. A video of one artist performance played quietly in the background as colourful pieces of card were painted and stuck onto a black piece of paper, representing amino acids. One pair made an AR postcard, that when you held your phone up, became alive with fish and turtles, a gentle marine themed tune playing. Charcoal was smeared all over the hands of one pair and another team pressed shells and rocks into clay to make stamps. Despite all the hard work that was being out into the postcards the conversation still flowed, everybody talking about their current work together. However it could be said that everyone in the lab bonded over a particularly difficult to open bottle of medium; it remains unopened to this day. As the session came to close the postcards were dried and photographed, ready for the exhibition.

We returned a week later to the Forest Café for the exhibition and panel discussion. The panel was made of 2 scientists and one artist, all coming to the conclusion that science and art require the same creative mind set, and that working together felt very natural. There was no sense that the artist had done all the work in creating the postcard and the overall experience was one of great fun. The conversation drew people from around the café in and audience members asked the panel questions.

 A satisfying end to a wonderful project.

LLC Blethers 2020 – An Evening of Academic Storytelling

By Elisa Teneggi

And so, we made it (again). LLC Blethers 2020 happened on February 20th, upholding the time-honoured tradition started a long time ago, in a land far far away, by a group of reckless PhDs who had the revolutionary idea of bringing together university-related students outside class and working hours. That magical fairy land was called School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at the University of Edinburgh. And its members greeted that intention voraciously.

Thus, Blethers – An Evening of Academic Storytelling, was born.

Blethers revolves around a PechaKucha competition, in which presenters from the LLC community discuss topics which are related to their area of interest – or that are just a lavish praise on their pets’ adorableness. A judging panel of academic staff members is then asked to deliver a verdict and pick the most inspiring presentation – the most cheered at, the most academic one, or maybe just something very odd and funny we never thought about.

Blethers is all about creativity, interactive learning, and community-building; that’s why the party goes on to a pub quiz, which has been carefully written by one of the members of our organizing team. Throughout the night there are prizes to be won, nibbles to munch on, and a batch of free drinks to be enjoyed by lucky early bird attendees.

Whereas drinks, venue, and catering have been paid for with the help of FCL – Festival of Creative Learning, all the prizes have been proudly sponsored by local business and US-based Barton Studio.

Blethers has been growing steadily during the years, and we’re excited to announce that we’re considering applying for bigger grants for next year’s event.

Festival of Creative Learning – Throwback: Student run events

The Festival of Creative Learning exists to provide staff and students within the University of Edinburgh funding and support to run events which explore new ways of learning. Looking back through previous events which have run, it is exciting to see so many events which encourage people to try new things, get out of their comfort zones and challenge the way they learn and see the world.

In this post, we are throwing back to some wonderful events organised and run by our students.

Cooking with science: 50 shades of textures

“What a week it was! Raising eyebrows by running around campus with hand blenders and random kitchen stuff. I think I made almost 10kg of ice cream in total…”

– Konstaninos Bantounos

In this blog post, PhD student Konstaninos details his event where he combined science with cooking to teach participants about food textures and explored how science can be used in the kitchen.

You can read the full blog post at the link below:

Cooking with Science (2019)

Reading the Newspaper like a Mathematician

This event run by Imogen Morris, a PGR student in the School of Informatics, taught participants to read the newspaper like a mathematician by evaluating the validity of arguments, understanding statistics and spotting fallacies.

If you would like to find out more, you can read the full blog post below:

Reading the Newspaper like a Mathematician

LLC Blethers: An evening of Academic Storytelling

LLC Blethers is a showcase event for research within the Graduate School of Literatures Languages and Cultures. In 2019 this event took place at The Counting House, which provided an informal venue to encourage staff and students to network outwith the University.

You can read the full post, and find out more about the variety of discussions and presentations at the link below:

LLC Blethers (2019)


Do you have an idea for a workshop or event which explores creative learning and innovation at the University of Edinburgh? Then consider applying to run a Festival of Creative Learning Pop-up event to make your idea a reality.

Staff and students are invited to apply to run a Festival Pop-up event at any time throughout the academic year. To find out more and to apply for funding, please click the link below:

Apply to run a FCL Pop-up event.

Festival of Creative Learning – Throwback

With the curated Festival of Creative Learning week not taking place this year, we thought we’d take the opportunity this week to throwback to previous events and highlight some of the wonderful events which have run in the past.

Don’t forget that you can still apply to run a Pop-up event at any time during the academic year. There is more information on how to apply for funding at the end of this post.

Creative Learning in Anatomy (2018 and 2019)

Victoria McCulloch, a teaching fellow in Anatomy ran this event in both 2018 and 2019. This workshop used modelling as a teaching method to learn about the muscles of facial expression.

You can read the full blog posts accompanying these workshops, and see more great photo’s from the events at the links below:

Creative Learning in Anatomy 2018 | Creative Learning in Anatomy 2019

People, Soils, microbes: the Evolution of inhabited landscapes (2019)

This event was attended and reported on by John Moriarty, our 2019 FCL event reporter. In his blog post he illustrates how Festival of Creative Learning events can encourage people to get out of their ‘comfort zone’ and experience and learn new things.

You can read the full blog post at the link below:

People, Soils, Microbes 2019

Run your own pop up event

Do you have an idea for a workshop or event which explores creative learning and innovation at the University of Edinburgh? Then consider applying to run a Festival of Creative Learning Pop-up event to make your idea a reality.

Staff and students are invited to apply to run a Festival Pop-up event at any time throughout the academic year. To find out more and to apply for funding, please click the link below:

Apply to run a FCL Pop-up event.

Her East Coast Vibe: Notes on an Album Launch

Stolen Voices (Dr Rebecca Collins and Dr Johanna Linsley) invited Dr Owen G. Parry to write about their experience of the Stolen Voices Album Launch in London. The Stolen Voices Album Launch forms part of ‘The Sonic Study Series’ and is a pop-up event as part of ‘The Festival of Creative Learning 2020.

A conceptual raffle it is! Your pre-paid ticket gives you free entry into a game where no one knows the rules but everyone’s a winner, baby. The prize – a gorgeous piece of 12 inch vinyl – an album – also conceptual.

Somewhere between medieval lore and tabloid pun these women decoded monopoly and made the sun come up via non-charismatic rituals for the broken hearted. They had carefully managed a cosmic summoning: an organised act which would render a new definition for a people on the brink of an embarrassed island – a people in decay. To manifest this act they took several trips to The Edge with some funny looking sticks, but without ever letting on about their intention: to trespass The Private Area; to linger for too long in hotel lobbies with basement spas drinking her favourite alcoholic infusion – a G&T with star anise. This act of lurking combined with their mastered style of ambient attention seeking became an embodied methodology, a concept cocktail which they casually referred to as her east coast vibe – all directed through one single inconspicuous ear. “Lets take it in turns to be me”, she whispered. And they did. And stuff happened.

Okay, this is all very good, but we have some questions: Are these women listening or being listened to? Are these women summoning or being summoned?

Here’s what we found:

There are multiple women with binders – multiple binders – and they all show up all tethered together to perform a single action at the sea-edge. They are not anonymous per se. Like, you’ve seen them before on the TV, or you’ve read about them in an Agatha Christie novel. They are coastal figurinas with binders – multiple binders – that climb into the bath with you in that moment when you just close your eyes. Shut. It’s a podcast. No. it’s your tin ship freight crate cargo sail bathtub. No. It’s the log flume at Wet n’ Wild you rode as a kid. The one where the log once “de-railed” or so they all told you over and over and over as you queued for the ride.

“So, what I’m saying is… A photo souvenir is not enough to help you forget the voices in your head”. It’s a murder mystery, guys. And yes, it’s true, it’s not clear what crime has been committed, but it’s almost entirely certain that one has.

There are objects in their mission worthy of a thicker description. Long dangly ones with arms. Not terribly useful ones, and some binoculars made of jello. Their sole purpose: to divert attention away from the four-eared detective instrument with multiple arms – there in the room – poking around, lifting-up bin lids, listening to The Clean Surface Areas of artificially constructed show homes with no real plumbing intact. Google it! These women are on a blinking mission.

She takes a stethoscope. Now here’s the thing… And lifts her top up to listen to her own heartbeat.  Ears plugged, tuning in to her own inner radio, she feels the cold metallic surface against her warm rising pecho. Her arm hairs engage causing a prickly-tingle-effect. She raises an arm up with limp intention. It’s breezy. She looks out to sea.

“What we need to do, is we need to send out a signal, and if we do this we should hear something back… within two weeks, and if we don’t hear back, we are to assume that unfortunately we were not successful this time round”.

We actively listen and wait for something that can’t ever be heard to make itself heard. Something ferocious. This could be a storm in a harbour, a corporate hack, or a territorial uprising – actual bits of land in pieces – a splitting of an island in two… let one part sink and please God let the other part float off into the North Sea like a good egg.

It’s a modest thing really. Just swarms of bees making cloud shapes over The Audience Area. Like, we know that this is just the beginning of something timed, but also pushing against time. Like, it’s not like this thing is “timely” (as in of this time), or “timeless” (as in forever relevant to the past, present, or future); but rather it feels like it’s “out of time” – by which I am referring to that feeling or tendency toward exaggeration and incretion that structures every good story.

They burrow, the women, as they drum and hum, not holes but patches in The Dry Skin-Area. Bruises appear and disappear like memory flashes.  She holds her breath and they all do. It’s quite powerful really.

For more come to CCA Glasgow on 8th February 2020 6:30pm. Tickets available through the CCA Box Office:

The Sonic Study Series brings artists, interdisciplinary scholars, students and any other interested individuals together to share current research on sound and listening. Sound, vocal acts and listening are of vital importance in today’s political climate when the use of language (e.g. hate speech), affect and atmosphere require urgent attention. This series aims to address issues of care, community and companionship at a time of crisis.

Further events in the series include The Sonic Study Series hosts Lisa Busby 6th February 2020. Tickets are free but places are limited:

Slow reading in the Garden

by Daphne Loads

As part of the Festival of Creative Ideas in August 2019, JL Williams and Daphne Loads facilitated two reading workshops in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh; one for staff and students of the University of Edinburgh, and one that welcomed the general public.

There is something particularly satisfying about reading in a garden, pausing from time to time to look up from the page and to take in fresh air, sky, trees and flowers. Reading indoors has its own pleasures, and the professor’s room in the historic Botanic Cottage provided a cosy hideaway, up a flight of stone stairs, filled with curious objects and with windows looking out onto neat plots of colourful vegetables and ornamentals.

Beginning in the cottage, Daphne and Jennifer offered an introduction to the ancient contemplative practice of Lectio Divina which allows the reader to slow down and engage deeply and intuitively with a text, so that a range of layered meanings emerge. Together we reflected on six concepts:

  • Presence
  • Trust
  • Slowing down
  • Embodied response
  • Embracing ambiguity
  • Transformation

Jennifer asked participants to think about silent reading versus reading aloud, and about individual reading experiences versus collective reading experiences. She asked them to consider the feelings associated with different types of reading; reading for pleasure, reading poetry, reading newspaper articles, reading a speech or lecture while delivering it, and so on.

Daphne encouraged participants to read “Heron” by Robert Macfarlane with their whole bodies, enjoying and becoming aware of the taste of the words in their mouths, the movement of the air through their lips, where the sounds touched them and moved them, in their hearts, their guts or on their skin. This was embodied reading.

Readers’ responses to “Heron” were funny, insightful and honest.

Moving outside into the rain-fresh garden, we each took a song lyric, a piece of prose or a poem, to be digested slowly, in the open air. On our return, we brought two or more small items discovered in the garden: twigs, berries, even a dead wasp (!) and shared our responses to the readings with reference to these objects.

Interestingly, according to Illich (1993):

‘The root of the English word “to read” connotes “to give advice,” “to make out,” to “peruse and interpret.” The Latin legere comes from a physical activity. Legere connotes “picking,” “bundling,” “harvesting” or “collecting.”’(p58)

Again we were re-embodying an abstract concept and enjoying its physicality. Together we re-enacted a richer form of reading, in contrast with the frenetic skimming, scanning and scrolling in search of quick information that so often seems to be expected of us today.

Illich, I (1993) In the Vineyard of the Text: a commentary to Hugh’s Didiscallion Chicago: University of Chicago Press

With thanks to Laura Gallagher of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

The Anatomy of Facial Expression – Art-Based Learning in Anatomy

by Victoria McCulloch, Teaching Fellow in Anatomy

2019 Festival of Creative Learning: The Anatomy of Facial Expression

One of the most engaging teaching methods in anatomy education is arts-based learning, and one which creates a relaxed and fun environment.

This is the second year in a row I have run a Festival of Creative Learning workshop using modelling as a teaching method to learn about the muscles of facial expression. I believe everyone should know their own anatomy, understand how it works, and even know what we look like underneath. The use of modelling, such as plasticine as we used in this workshop, aids in our haptic understanding of the structure of the muscles of facial expression, along with offering a nostalgic experience in which people remember playing with plasticine when they were little.

Workshop materials; plastic skull, plasticine and a handout with details of the muscles of facial expression

The historic Anatomical Museum was the setting for this workshop, allowing attendees to experience the history of Anatomy and Medicine at the University of Edinburgh through our fantastic comparative anatomy collection, before getting hands-on with their own anatomy.  This workshop required no prior anatomical knowledge or artistic skills. Over 3 hours we recreated a selection of the muscles of facial expression (there are 43 muscles in the face!) in plasticine on to life-sized plastic skulls, whilst thinking about their attachment sites and what facial expression and emotion they allow us to convey. Anatomical terminology originates from Latin and Greek, and when it comes to the muscles of facial expression there is no escaping the terminology! A good example of this is Levator labii superioris, which means “elevator of the upper lip”, a muscle that allows us to show anger and bare our teeth. I like to talk attendees through the terminology and the origin of the words, as this allow us to understand the function and structure of the muscles better.

At the end of the workshop all attendees step away from their work to appreciate the physical outcome of their learning. Although everyone has modelled the same muscles, every face looks different, showing anatomical variation, because we all vary in different ways from each other. Lining all the skulls up at the end is a great moment, seeing the attendees’ work and the different facial expressions the attendees have unwittingly given their plastic skulls.

The end result; the muscles of facial expression modelled in plasticine showing different expressions!

Arts-based learning is a fantastic way to learn or revise your anatomy. Being hands-on allows us to visualise the three-dimensional structures of the human body, making it a perfect teaching method for all knowledge levels. To find out about public engagement events, including arts-based workshops, run by Anatomy@Edinburgh, please visit the website – .

Thank you to the wonderful attendees, and to the Festival of Creative Learning for funding this workshop.