The Pelling Lab

University of Ottawa

Department of Physics

STEM Complex

150 Louis Pasteur

Ottawa, ON K1N6N5

Canada

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Biophysics and Underwear?

Updated: Jan 8

Career-wise, the last few years have been surprising, eye-opening, surreal and horizon-expanding. Having the chance to share my work with millions of people from the TED stage has led to completely unexpected experiences, opportunities and partnerships that have allowed me, and my lab, to grow in ways I would never have predicted. And today is one of those days!


I’m pleased to announce our partnership with the men’s underwear company SAXX. You can check out the campaign site here and watch the amazing video profile SAXX created:

So, what do an underwear company and a biophysics professor have in common? Well, on the surface, probably next to nothing. Until you dig a little deeper. Nowadays I tend to get approached by all sorts of consumer facing companies (tech, tv, clothing, etc) to work together. Honestly, managing these opportunities, especially as an academic, can be very challenging and often just infeasible amongst my other responsibilities and commitments. Full disclosure, I often rely on the services of Jeff Jacobson at Talent Bureau to represent my interests and concerns when these partnerships arise.


One day I got an email from Jeff wondering if I’d like to talk with SAXX, a men’s underwear company. SAXX had launched a marketing campaign focused on featuring scientists, engineers, founders, hackers and inventors who were having a positive impact in the world through their initiatives. SAXX had even recently profiled two people whose work I know well, Cesar Harada and Topher White. After seeing the incredible way SAXX represented their work I figured the least I could do was have a chat. One of the key messages SAXX wanted to communicate was that they know that creating positive change on an international level starts by innovating in everyday lives. That’s why they decided to highlight the macro-impact creators: the relentless, the ground breakers, and the change-makers.

Seeding human cells onto a plant scaffold


One of my immediate concerns was prioritizing my lab’s long commitment to ensuring equity and diversity. The question was: how can we represent that in partnership with a men's underwear company? I also wanted to make sure we communicated the way we approach scientific research by welcoming a broad community of people into the room, such as artists, social scientists and the public, etc. We've deliberately created a lab that works on all sorts of things, does not tend to specialize and cultivates an atmosphere of unapologetic curiosity.


SAXX was extremely supportive of my concerns and emphasized that one of the reasons they wanted to work with me was to amplify who we are as a lab, the unusual way we work and the important innovations that have resulted. If you've watched the campaign video above I hope you hear our voice and core values come across in the final product. Besides telling our story, SAXX has also poured support into the lab, made sure all of us (women and men) are well clothed, and we even had the chance to design our very own "Augmented Biology" limited-edition underwear print! Proceeds will be used to directly fund the supplies and salaries of hardworking student researchers in the lab.

Working with the SAXX design team to create the Augmented Biology print


I would never have predicted that I’d be working with an underwear company after the decades of sweat and tears that have been required to educate myself, train at the bench, start my own lab, earn grants, win awards and eventually become a tenured full professor. But in my lab, this partnership is yet another example of how we try our best to take the road less travelled. Unusual ideas and partnerships are exactly what we thrive on, and to run a successful lab demands relentless ingenuity, something that is a shared core value of both SAXX and the Pelling Lab. Finally, I want to thank everyone at SAXX (Taylor McKinnon, Mitchel Clements, Ivana Djordjevic) and Topo Films (Jordie Lepage, Patrick Henry) for all the time and energy you spent telling our story. It’s humbling to have so many people dedicate their talents and energy to crafting a product that recognizes the value of our work.

Behind the scenes photos from the two-day film shoot at the Pelling Lab

Vancouver friends! On Jan 18, we’ll be working with SAXX at what might be the world’s first ever underwear hackathon on the future of underwear! How do you think underwear of the future, built with new materials, technologies and designs, will open up new frontiers of exploration and invention? All ideas welcome, spend the day with us at the Vancouver Maker Labs to explore ideas, build prototypes, win awards and enjoy free food, drinks and underwear. For free tickets use the promo code PHACKTORY100 and sign up today!

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