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How one engineer uses scientific thought for personal liberation

For many, the worlds of chemistry, biology and engineering conjure images of people clothed in white lab coats silently scurrying around in cold, sterile rooms.

For Kendra Krueger, those images couldn’t be further from the truth.

Krueger is an engineer, professor, community organizer and her conception of science is as multi-tendriled as the plants she studies. She believes there are many ways to answer questions and explore the universe, from the hard sciences to art and social justice.

Her organization, 4Love + Science, is a donation-based science education program founded in Denver that helps people explore various means of inquiry.

“I really see my work as intersectional science,” Krueger said. “The core of that is simultaneously learning about the external world and our internal world – our minds, emotions and artistic experience of being human.”

Growing up as the child of New York artists, Krueger found herself being pulled in what she thought was a very different direction. After receiving both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering, she went on to work in nanofabrication labs. But soon thereafter, she started to wonder: how is this technology helping people?

Science can be an incredible force for good, she thought. In addition to helping us understand the physical wonders of the universe, it provides a framework for thought itself. The scientific method of inquiry can be applied to all sorts of questions, including question of what it means to be alive.

For people who have historically not benefitted from cutting-edge scientific exploration — that process of inquiry can also be a force for liberation.

So in 2014, Krueger quit her job and began building the intersectional program that would become 4Love + Science. Now, she facilitates trainings, workshops, research and learning programs that cover a wide variety of disciplines. Whether she’s exploring permaculture or mindfulness meditation, her work integrates intuitive and analytical ways of thinking to guide people through that process of discovery.

“We don’t have to be afraid of watering down the science by making it more emotional or more personal. It actually becomes more valuable when we do that,” she said.

One of her initiatives is an after school program that allows kids to learn about different scientific concepts they’re led to by their own curiosity, rather than by a set curriculum. Each classroom is an “exploratory space” where students can read about chakras, or spiritual centers of energy, and look at fossils under a microscope in the same afternoon.

The space offers students a chance to explore their physical and spiritual worlds using many different knowledge bases, not just the Eurocentric scientific canon that dominates American education.

“That one has value to us, but there are so many others that have been discredited and forgotten,” she said, stressing that discovering the scientific lineage from different ancestries is especially important for marginalized communities.

Science for self-liberation is a lifelong process, so Krueger also supports adults and intergenerational communities as she teaches, speaks and organizes workshops across the country.

She recently went to Philadelphia with her father to work with an Afrofuturist collective for a two-day workshop called Time Camp, which explored alternative relationships with time, temporal frameworks and dark matter. Her father, an artist and filmmaker, discussed the artistic mechanics of images and the stories of trauma in black culture.

“I paired that with scientific stories on dark matter and dark energy. One is expansive and one is compressive. I made connections and analogies between his stories and the scientific stories,” Krueger said. “A lot of it is storytelling in a way. How do start to see science as another inspiration for storytelling, to inform our lives?”

In another workshop at Stanford University, she led a group in a conversation about the intersection between quantum physics, thermodynamics, gender, race and identity.

“The particle and the wave is an analogy of how we look at our identity: Solid aspects and more amorphous aspects, and how we transition between those things in different spaces,” Krueger said.

The ThinkPad has been an integral tool for Krueger’s work for more than a decade. She started using one as an undergraduate student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “I loved the accessibility of the technology and stuck with it.”

Krueger said she uses the ThinkPad for its durability and processing power, whether it is in the hands of an eager student or exposed to the elements inside a community garden. She and her students use the laptop “as a tool to explore the vast information that exists out in the world and on the Internet.”

Krueger recently left Denver and returned to New York, where she’s continuing to teach permaculture, regenerative design and ecological sustainability courses, filling the pedagogical hole for sustainable science in concert with social justice.

Her plan is to create a research institute that merges analytical and intuitive explorations “combining things like quantum physics, thermodynamics, biochemistry, meditation, music and dance with electronics, technology and anti-oppression. All of it can be done together.”

Krueger says that with intersectional science, we can hammer out the systems of injustice and elevate the powers of discovery.

“Systems of oppression are systems that tell us we don’t have power and that we don’t have the capability to make decisions on our own,” Krueger said. “The biggest tool of liberation is reclaiming knowledge, understanding, inquiry, science and learning as a tool for ourselves. Ultimately that is one of the greatest powers of liberation that we have.”

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