Geek of the Week

Geek of the Week: Bioengineer by day and artist by evening, Amanda Woodcock lives to create

(Photo courtesy of Amanda Woodcock)

Whether she is brainstorming solutions to a medical problem, or coming up with a new ceramic form, Amanda Woodcock is constantly creating in her worlds as both a bioengineer and as an artist.

“That is really where I shine — creating something from nothing,” said Woodcock, who works at Seattle’s 20-year-old Product Creation Studio, where she participates in early concept development of medical devices and helps pioneer solutions to complex medical issues.

Woodcock’s artistic and scientific endeavors are symbiotic with one another, and she believes pursuing both makes both more successful.

“I love being able to exercise freeform creativity while doing art, and bringing my engineering knowledge into that allows me to build more complex structures and forms,” she said. “Conversely, my ability to think out of the box and exercise creativity has served me very well at Product Creation Studio by enabling me to innovate novel solutions and mechanisms.”

Woodcock, a Biomedical/Medical Engineering graduate from the University of Washington, points to her work on a specimen container in collaboration with the Paulovich Lab at Fred Hutch that rapidly freezes a biopsy sample at the point of care. The device will enable the use of mass spectrometry — an emerging patient selection tool for personalized oncology therapies.

“Mass Spec measures proteins, and the rapid freezing is important because the trauma of biopsy causes the cells to express unwanted proteins that act as noise, masking the important information in the data,” Woodcock said. “This device, when released, will enable the use of the technology to select the effective cancer therapy, making personalized treatment accessible to more patients.”

Some of Amanda Woodcock’s ceramic work. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Woodcock)

Woodcock’s work continues at home, as she heads straight to her basement studio. There she checks on pottery that is drying, sketches new ideas, loads the kiln, and throws new work on the wheel.

The space is also set up for woodworking, jewelry making, sewing, and more, and — because the work never stops — Woodcock and her partner Logan are in the process of rebuilding a vintage trailer. They dream of building a small cabin and large workshop on acreage in the forest away from Seattle.

“I always have multiple projects going in different areas of my life, and I enjoy doing things that allow me to learn a new skill,” she said.

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Amanda Woodcock:

What do you do, and why do you do it? I am a biomedical engineer, specializing in early concept development of medical devices. I originally got into this field from my interest in point-of-care devices for the developing world. At Product Creation Studio, I work on a range of projects, from home healthcare devices to surgical tools to beauty products, inventing novel and innovative solutions that we take from concept to production. I do this not only because I enjoy creating, but also because it is rewarding to have a positive impact on someone’s life through the work that I do.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? When people hear the term “biomedical engineer” a lot of preconceptions tend to occur. The field is so broad, and most people connect it with a realm of science fiction and lab coats. Bioengineering is much more than that. In my case, designing medical devices, I am more mechanical engineer than bio. My background in Bio-E gives me a more thorough understanding of the medical problem to be solved. Bioengineers have such a broad perspective, we are known as great problem solvers. Many of us tend to be generalists rather than specialists, but we are big picture thinkers who have a knack for finding novel solutions to complex problems.

Where do you find your inspiration? My inspiration comes from the natural world. Billions of years of evolution has yielded a huge catalog of features, interactions and systems that we have much to learn from, and much of which we haven’t yet discovered. Even a cell is modeled well — functions are broken into modules for power, communication, etc. like organelles in a cell. These parallels inspire me to look to what already exists in nature to solve a problem — nature has been solving similar problems for eons.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? My electric bike — Seattle hills would be much harder without it! I love waking up and moving a little before work. It definitely beats stumbling onto a bus or driving through rush hour, plus it’s free!

Amanda Woodcock’s desk at Product Creation Studio in Seattle. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Woodcock)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? Having a functional workspace is very important to me. This means a workspace with the proper tools, but also one that sparks rather than stifles creativity. For me, this has different implementations in my two different workspaces.

At Product Creation Studio, this means a big space for assembly of parts, ample storage, and a big desktop whiteboard to work out ideas. I find that clutter in my space clutters my brain, so I do my best to keep my space open and mess-free. And of course I always have tea and some snacks close by.

The art studio in Amanda Woodcock’s basement at home. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Woodcock)

At my home studio, having ample space is paramount. Before moving to my current studio, I was throwing pottery in the kitchen of my studio apartment — this space was so cramped, I was unproductive, uninspired, and stressed out, and affected my work. I my new space, I have a big table I use for wedging clay, slip casting, and building and decorating my pots, as well as a few other workstations suited to different purposes. On one wall I hang up pieces of printer paper I have scrawled ideas for new forms, and shelves to dry work. I also keep a clean space where I do smaller tasks and assembly of parts for my jewelry work. Ample light and a space heater make this basement space more comfortable, and this workspace has become a space for me to explore and play — inspiring more innovative work.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) Take a breath! I have an alarm on my phone set for once every two hours that prompts me to take a breath and check in with myself. This break could last 10 seconds, or 10 minutes, but I have found that amidst all the crazy, small cues like this make all the difference — your body will tell you a lot if you just listen!

Mac, Windows or Linux? Windows — mostly because I never bothered to learn anything else.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Picard, although Star Trek hasn’t been part of my life since I was a young child.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Transporter, especially if such a machine could transport me to the depths of the ocean.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … What I really want to do is create an off-grid retreat and art space to expand my work, host art workshops, and rent out cabins and creative space in the woods. I’d like to have a gallery with rotating artists in different media, and have it become a space where people can come to escape, enjoy the woods, or to explore and create, all while reducing our carbon footprint and living slowly and intentionally.

I once waited in line for … I don’t like lines, so I avoid them whenever possible.

Your role models: Neri Oxman, a medical student turned architect. This duality of science and design has led her to lead one of the coolest places I have ever encountered — the Mediated Matter research group at MIT. She is a strong role model for me for 3 reasons:

  • She so beautifully straddles the duality science and art. This balance is something I myself strive for — and I strongly believe both of those skills together are the true key to innovation.
  • Her revolutionary view on design that we can edit and utilize the natural world, rather than consume it, is one that I believe is where our society needs to go if we are going to be serious about climate change.
  • She’s a total badass! In her work in “Silk Pavilion 2003” she released 6,500 silkworms onto a large dome inside a pavilion. If that isn’t pushing boundaries, I don’t know what is.

Also, Logan, my partner, who has taught me everything about living a balanced life, living in the moment, and loving with a full heart.

Greatest game in history: Connect Four, or Twister. It’s all about simplicity.

Best gadget ever: Electric bike.

First computer: Some big clunky desktop with a floppy disk I shared with my parents.

Current phone: iPhone 10.

Favorite app: Autodesk sketchbook.

Favorite cause: Coral reef conservation. Coral is an incredibly complex and beautiful organism that builds underwater cities that are the habitat for more than 25 percent of ocean life, while it covers less than 1 percent of the sea floor. I think this cause has an awareness problem, as most of us going through life don’t get to see these reefs and how they are changing in person.

Most important technology of 2019: This isn’t technology in a traditional sense, but the discovery that coastal marshes are one of the highest performing carbon trapping ecosystems and the utilization and protection of these for such a purpose.

Most important technology of 2021: “Super corals” — genetically engineered corals to withstand warming waters of climate change.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Do what you love! It’s the quickest way to happiness!

Website: Product Creation Studio

LinkedIn: Amanda Woodcock

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