Checkin’ In: Artist and Scientist Natalie Jeremijenko

Checkin’ In: Artist and Scientist Natalie Jeremijenko

Environmentalist, artist, scientist, activist, and engineer are just a few of the hats that maker Natalie Jeremijenko wears, and she always seems to devise projects that blend her many talents seamlessly. Back in 2005, in MAKE Volume 02, we ran a profile of Natalie, where she aptly summed up: “I work on examining the cultural opportunities that technological innovations provide.” She has performed studies in “social robotics,” looking at how robots can interact with each other as well as with life forms, with an emphasis on environmental issues. For example, in the Netherlands, she experimented with a robotic goose that could record and play back sounds of other geese, as well as chase after and play with the geese, providing insight into how the birds communicate. We focused on her Feral Robotic Dogs project, hacking robotic toy dogs and transforming them from their “intended entertainment use to activists instruments for exploring (and contesting) local material conditions.” Under her guidance, students from UCSD hacked their toy dogs to sniff out toxic substances at the Mission Bay Landfill:


These days, Natalie directs the xDesign Environmental Health Clinic at New York University. The clinic “develops and prescribes locally optimized and often playful strategies to effect remediation of environmental systems, producing measurable and mediagenic evidence and coordinating diverse projects to effective material change.” Folks can make appointments at the clinic, but instead of talking about internal biology, patients discuss their environmental concerns, and instead of leaving with a prescription for pharmaceuticals, they leave with a prescription for action, plus referrals to organizations and projects they can participate in. Natalie’s list of projects is extensive and includes Fwish, a grid of robotics buoys that monitor water quality, sense fish presence and visualize information through colored LEDs:


An ongoing exhibit at Mass MoCA, another project, TreeLogic, is an inverted avenue of six sugar maple trees growing upside down, suspended 30 feet in the air:


And a product in the works is the GreenAwning, a positionable solar array:


This is just the tip of the iceberg. To boot, she is also a visiting professor at Royal College of Art in London and an artist not-in-residence at the Institute for the Future. To find out more about Natalie and her projects, check out the xDesign site. To pick up your back issue of MAKE Volume 02, head on over to the Maker Shed.

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

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