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Abstract:

The popularity of computational notebooks heralds a return of software as computational media rather than turn-key applications. We believe this software model has potential beyond supporting just the computationally literate. We studied a biomolecular nano-design lab that works on a current frontier of science — RNA origami — whose researchers depend on computational tools to do their work, yet are not trained as programmers. Using a participatory design process, we developed a computational labbook to concretise what computational media could look like, using the principles of computability, malleability, shareability, and distributability suggested by previous work. We used this prototype to co-reflect with the nanoscientists about how it could transform their practice. We report on the computational culture specific to this research area; the scientists’ struggles managing their computational environments; and their subsequent disempowerment yet dependence. Lastly, we discuss the generative potential and limitations of the four design principles for the future of computational media.

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    Oh, also contains (coins?) the excellent phrase “Computational disempowerment”, in a brief section exploring the ways the scientists felt disempowered by their tools at the same time as those tools empowered them in other ways.