ZT: Making time in the laboratory

Humans perceive time as light. Our brains have evolved to use the light of the sun to jumpstart a cascade of biological processes across the day and night. Scientists call these environmental cues ‘zeitgebers’, from the German for ‘time giver’. Light signals are perceived through a special class of photoreceptors in the eye, and triggering a small bundle of cells in the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). In our 24/7 society, there is a concern that too much light stimulation can damage our sleep and our metabolic health. However, this discoveries have also opened up the potential for manipulating this ability to set our body clocks by the light in order to tackle jet-lag, seasonal depression and the effects of shift work. Chronobiologists are the scientists who study our circadian rhythms and how time is deeply embedded in our health. But in order to study time, they must also make time.

This project is about the ways in which laboratory scientists make, manage and manipulate time – both in their daily working lives, and as a part of experiments interrogating circadian rhythms. The aim is to use multidisciplinary perspectives from the arts and humanities to better understand time as an element of our health and the temporal environments created in scientific laboratories in order to study the typical working ‘rhythms’ of a laboratory, how scientist as circadian beings themselves influences their work, and what happens to science when these rhythms of scientific practice are disrupted by ‘slowing’ events like the COVID-19 lockdown.