Peter Walter (UCSF/HHMI): Squeezing Time for Art

Peter Walter (UCSF/HHMI): Squeezing Time for Art



my name is David Pincus and I'm a graduate student at UCSF and I get the privilege today to interview my PhD advisor Peter Walter on his scientific and extra scientific hobbies and creative endeavors so I Peter I David think you should be in the lab well I'm glad you find other uses of your time yeah I'm working on the next paper it'll be out soon so I want to start basically by introducing what you do which is mostly science but a little bit on the side getting to do creative projects with your hands doing woodworking and metalworking doing sculpture and functional stuff around the house so how did you get your start doing wood and metal working but basically started when I was growing up when I always left to do little projects and did a lot of handiwork with my dad we had a little room in our apartment in Berlin that that was really really the tiniest Roman in the apartment some maybe six feet by eight feet or something and we used it to to just do all sorts of projects it was a room that was okay to make a mess and to leave projects have finished stand around and I just just love creating things with my hands well how'd you get your start doing science but all she started with my dad as well when he had a little chemist shop in Berlin and they were selling all sorts of herbs and chemicals and soaps and stuff and I got fascinated by the chemistry of sort of mixing things together making them explode take an oxidant reductant you can create amazing things I suppose the pirate technical aspects of chemistry that really got me excited as a young boy have you ever had an idea to use your mind ever wonder to science when you're actually you know crafting something of course yeah yeah when does the to a crane not separate and often women building things and repetitive tasks you sit there for hours standing something and that time this is not raced it your neurons are firing left and right and you put other things together so it's a very relaxing exercise so I think having some passion that you can pursue outside of the lab it's really important for keeping yourself focused on science oh absolutely even when we were living like I did or photography simply because the surroundings or that beautiful things you can photograph in New York and I but but when I worked in a lab myself I had a lot of manual satisfaction by doing experiments and I really loved the detective work of designing experiments and tickling outlast the secret out of mother nature and that is know that the lab has grown and I'm basically not on the bench anymore I sit all day in a computer i talk to people so I think I've fulfilled I've need and provide balance between the intellectual exercise of doing something this your hand both sides benefit from from that creative from having creative outlets so you have a wonderful shop here in your house how did how did that get started what was your first piece of equipment that you had here and how is it taking shape and evolved over the years but let me step back one one one step further when I came to the States I spent six years in Manhattan and we were basically living in a little box so this this kind of art form of doing woodworking was completely out of the question because just couldn't didn't have the space where where you could make good working so dirty is it dirty exercise so move to San Francisco we had three requirements for a house you wanted a fireplace we wanted a garden and I wanted a garage and the garage basically turned into a wood shop we evicted the car and the Carson when the driveway and we build a little a little wood shop and bought a lot of used equipment that eventually got a bit more fancy and complete set of of doing things so I've never took any formal training and cabinetmaking it it's all trial and error lots of error I want to ask you about some of the particular specific pieces that you have around the house can you talk about the stained glass piece on the on the stairs now that was a wonderful little project that it together with Patricia my wife when we moved into the house really we built this wall in which served the glass window is now and it looked very ugly just having of aldaran decided to penetrate it to bring light into both spaces so we just was our first and only stained glass piece we we ever made and we are quite fun exploring it I think it turned out fantastically what about the the tree in the bathroom the tree in the bathroom where we experimented a lot with lighting in the upper floor so we put the skylights in and if you have such a nice skylight plants are happy there so it's a little bit the bathroom is designed a little bit Japanese architecture in mind very where you where you find combination of natural elements and geometric elements so can you tell us about the this endeavor you have right behind you here where you looks like you somehow busted through the wall to create a little habitat yeah I grew up in Germany and all this the houses are stone so living here in a wooden house gives you a lot more of what's your energy so basically what vibrated is the friend of mine you just took a chainsaw to the wall and we went through cut this hole put a little planter in on the outside and then build this little display look here it's just a it's just a very warm feature one of the nice aspects at least for me being in the lab is getting to see some of the gifts that you craft for our annual holiday party how did that tradition start I always think it's it's it's nice to give something personal the store-bought that's generally suggest personal gesture to think of a present its that's befitting the person's done a number of different things the thing I'm most proud of is it's a time machine again because it relates so nicely to the science we do the thing we are the most precious thing we have this is our time and this machine makes more of it just take this clock and squeeze it out trips time and then you have a bottle of it to use for whatever gives you rewards and satisfaction the fountains in the garden are beautiful when what was the order that that you put them together and can you describe that process yes I love flowing water I mean it's wonderful in landscape design sing a wonderful example is y'all hambro in Granada in Spain so this is the center of Islamic culture it's a palace there's lots of water features left and right trying to build some water features into our garden it's very relaxing sitting next to flowing water the ball fountain I was at a scientific meeting conference in santa fe and tommy kirk house in and i went to a gallery stone forest we they have wonderful craft or stone features then we had a big a big issue because you suddenly get this crate with a round stone ball that wastes themselves and pounds and it sits in your garage in your driveway then what do you do next it's so a lot of handling logistics of how to then put it out there in the garden so I built cranes and cots and and tracks to move it out so in part what i love about creating things is to deal with the challenges as I arise and it's a process the window fountain again it has a little oriental touch in design was just sketched another boring seminar and has very dramatic features to it a little pond and Ernie's with our goat fish and it's it's it's a search the the third generation of that glass plate fountain so the first one was experimental very basic we try to pump up the water between two glass plates and it's it's amazing what eight feet of pressure does to a glass plate so it basically exploded Hartman when we try to pump the water in there then the second one was was better was we'd had copper piping on the side hidden inside the wood which then flew over in a storm and this is the circuit version now and it has a valid stainless steel frame hidden inside the wood so it looks very delicate it's actually quite strong with the inside I guess started with woodwork and now it seems that your time trying your hand at metalwork so can you describe a little bit about la Monique yes hola muneca soar to sculpture that is eventually going to be a fountain woodworking is is a subtractive craft because you take a piece of wood and you carve away from it and then you glue a few things together but there will always be separate pieces there is metal jerking especially welding you put things together you form feminine points of synthetic and I think the two the two are various they're fundamentally different and you can create things in metal you could never dream of building building in wood expanded range of possibilities enhancer did the ultimate to be mr. combine the two so I want to make kinetic sculptures that look wooden at half metal interiors that I've working that that the wooden pieces interacted p in ways that are just what possible was that material along so how did you get your inspiration for lawmen eek was sitting there doodling and my mind was wandering into some geometrical shapes that would make some nice sculpture I think that were the first sketches that then evolved it basically what she is she's a little square that then expands when you twist the whole thing and turn it over and then a couple a couple of months later I i I've read a book the day of the triffids by John Minton science fiction novel written in the 1950s where we're sort of plant-like creature start invading the earth and fester being cultured as beautiful exotic new plants and then when everybody has them in their garden they turn out carnivorous and start attacking and eating people it's a one-er wonderful little story and it's so sorry Sam everyone can turn her into something like that so I tried to make the sculpture more and more organic looking on super imposed on the on the geometrical design how does your science and your art how does these two things sort of inform each other and and influence is there an interplay between the two well i mean i think if you think that's what what what makes you a great scientist is basically doing something well and being creative with what you're doing going into going somewhere out of the box where people haven't been before because you're busy doing discovery no idea where we're going sink in a way working working with material and creating something is actually quite similar I think in both in science and and and art you're never going to be computer a fully rewarded by just doing something technically perfect if it's just derivative of what other people have done you

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