OpenLab Network

The OpenLab project (http://openlabresearch.com/about) at the University of California Santa Cruz is led by Jennifer Parker, an associate professor of Art + Digital Arts New Media and Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, an associate professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics. The project is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) (http://www.nsf.gov) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) (http://www.nasa.gov/), among others. OpenLab has been around for about two years.

Collaborators include organizations with related goals within and outside of the University of California system, working artists, scientists, environmental activists, M.D.s, graduate students, and most likely a few undergraduates as well. Projects range from an interactive sculpture/research on the topic of mass transfer in binary stars, to videos/research on the environmental impacts of latex balloons, to an iPad app for virtual group therapy for families with babies in intensive care (http://openlabresearch.com/archives/2774), to name a few.

SAN DIEGO (March 4, 2011) Lt. Lauren Mattingly, an intern in the Naval Medical Center San Diego Graduate Medical Education program, examines a newborn baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

SAN DIEGO (March 4, 2011) Lt. Lauren Mattingly, an intern in the Naval Medical Center San Diego Graduate Medical Education program, examines a newborn baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

To give you an idea of the types of work possible through this program, the facilities used by the OpenLab Network include a foundry, a metal fabrication shop, a digital imaging lab, photo and print studios, wood shop, and a supercomputer lab for undergraduates, affectionately referred to as the SLUG. The performing arts also play a role.

Perhaps the important aspect of this project, one that sets it apart from many other science + art initiatives, is that the directors state a research purpose:

“Within this immersive environment, we will conduct research to acquire skills and knowledge that crosses disciplinary boundaries between science, education, and the arts while sharing expertise in collaborative research methodologies.

The following research questions will be investigated:

(1) How can we strengthen or create new methodologies that truly engage art and science thinking?

(2) Is an interdisciplinary laboratory space for cross-disciplinary and collaborative research more engaging and productive for students and faculty without these resources?

We should all keep an eye out for the answers.

For Your Perusal

I’m excited to share with you an important addition to this blog – a bibliography constructed by Nancy Dennis, Science and Technology Librarian at Salem State University, and my collaborator in the research on the topic of STEAM. Nancy has collected and annotated a stimulating selection of articles on the topic of the intersection of the visual arts and the sciences, all with relevance to higher education. We’ll be adding to this bibliography over time, so be sure to check back occasionally. The bibliography can be found in the ‘Pages’ section: https://stemtosteamihe.wordpress.com/science-visual-arts-bibliography/

Let me draw your attention to a couple of items of interest from the bibliography. First, please note this quote from a fascinating 1988 interview with Dr. Elliot Eisner, Professor Emeritus of Education and of Art.

Tattoo designed by Christian Cordova of Tattoo del Mono, Chile

Tattoo designed by Christian Cordova of Tattoo del Mono, Chile

“Learning in the arts is cognitively a very sophisticated operation. It requires the exercise of imagination. It requires the cultivation of human sensibility, the ability to pay attention to nuance, the ability to capitalize on the adventitious and on surprise in the course of working on a project or topic, the ability to know when to shift goals when working on something. It is the farthest thing from an algorithm. Much of the lack of development of critical thinking in American schools has been due to an emphasis on subject matter and on processes that do not cultivate human judgement and other forms of higher-level thinking.”

As scientists, we use most of the same elements of higher-level thinking in our own practice. In the same interview, Dr. Eisner voiced support for arts integration as long as it did not involve the sacrifice of formal art programs in schools.

Second, you may enjoy a 2012 article by Poli et al. that describes the use of topic of tattooing to explore world cultures, design, microbiology, immunology, chemistry, public health, medicine, physics, and engineering!

Goings On About Town

Today I present a sampling of a few arts integration efforts at universities around the United States. I hope you find them interesting!

Undergraduate and graduate students participate in the Art of Science Competition at Princeton University. http://www.princeton.edu/artofscience/gallery2013/gallery.php%3Fp=1.html

Undergraduates in the School of Education at the College of William and Mary have the opportunity to do their clinicals at the Virgina STEAM Academy (http://www.vasteam.org), a public residential school for gifted middle-school and high-school students, set to open in 2014. http://www.wm.edu/news/stories/2013/wm-school-of-education-to-partner-with-virginia-steam-academy123.php

In 2012, Palm Beach State College began a 5-yr STEAM initiative with a focus on workforce preparedness. They plan to support STEAM program enhancement and provide scholarships and internships to undergraduates. Their website emphasizes the many STEM resources and programs at the college. http://www.palmbeachstate.edu/foundation/steam/

Detail a the roof of the College of Engineering at University of Northern Florida

Detail a the roof of the College of Engineering at University of Northern Florida

The STEAM Journal is published out of Claremont Graduate University. Their inaugural issue was released on-line in March 2013 and included academic papers, lesson plans at the K12 and undergraduate levels, and artwork. The journal is edited by faculty members and a Ph.D. candidate in their School of Education, the Director of their Transdisciplinary Studies Program, and Professor of Art. This journal could provide a venue for STEAM-related efforts, hopefully to include rigorous research, by graduate students and faculty members. http://scholarship.claremont.edu/steam/

Insect Designs

Actual Dolycoris baccarum wings left side opened right forwing opened, right hind wing folded

Actual Dolycoris baccarum
wings left side opened
right forwing opened, right hind wing folded

To continue with the theme of intersection of textile arts with science (see also https://stemtosteamihe.wordpress.com/2013/05/11/a-yarn-about-anatomy-2/), I want to share with you the work of Claire Moynihan, a textile artist in the United Kingdom: http://www.clairemoynihan.co.uk

She uses a freestyle form of 3D embroidery to realistically reproduce insects and snails. She even places them in the same collection boxes used by entomologists and labels them with scientific names.

Not all of us or all of our students are skilled in the textile arts, but some are. It is possible to give an assignment that allows students to choose a form of art for the exploration and expression of scientific knowledge. Examples such as this one may serve as an inspiration.

Bug Balls x 3 Collection (Courtesy of C. Moynihan)

Bug Balls x 3 Collection (Courtesy of C. Moynihan)

Maker Faire as a Venue for Student Work

Maker Faires showcase D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) work often with a technology slant. Makers present work that ranges from Arduino projects (http://www.instructables.com/id/Arduino-Projects/) to 3-D printers to biotech projects to textile arts to robots, and the faires take place around the world.

The World Maker Faire (http://makerfaire.com) will be at the New York Hall of Science (http://www.nysci.org) in Queens, NY, this September. The Call for Entries (http://makerfaire.com/newyork-2013-call-for-makers/) closes July 28. Interestingly, student projects top the list of the type of topics they’d like to see included.

For folks in the Boston area, there will be a Mini Maker Faire in Somerville, Massachusetts in October.

Clothing created by a 3D Printer

Clothing created by a 3D Printer

Imagining the Brain

A recent paper by David Hay et al. of Kings College London (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/sce.21055/abstract) examines the role of scientific illustration as evidence of expertise, and considers pedagogical techniques that can lead undergraduates to produce illustrations indistinguishable from those of PIs.

Image shows tyramide-filled neurons from the cingulate cortex of mouse brain. (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mouse_cingulate_cortex_neurons.jpg)

Tyramide-filled neurons from the cingulate cortex of mouse brain.

An understanding of invisible structures, processes and phenomena requires a level of abstraction that presents a challenge to the typical undergraduate student. The authors show how activities that support the creativity and imaginations of students can lead to expert-level work.Their interventions required the students to use imagination and movement to see themselves as their biological subjects, in this case brain cells undergoing development. The activities appeared to provide students with insight into the research perspective without the need for benchwork. After participation in the activities, student drawings were more likely to represent a variety of types of neurons and to demonstrate the creative approach, imagination, and hypothesis-building typical of PIs. They include elements of neuron identity that are not visible. It is suggested that illustrations by PIs, which to a certain extent represent their original conceptual models, may fuse objective scientific illustration with elements of design.

As an introduction to their argument, the authors present useful reviews of the topics of Science Studies and of Science Visual Culture. They also reference Objectivity (Daston & Galison, 2007), and use the framework presented therein for what they describe as the three types of representation in science: Truth-to-Nature, Mechanical Objectivity, and Trained Judgement. Benjamin Cohen gives a clear summary of this framework in his blog post on the topic: http://scienceblogs.com/worldsfair/2008/01/03/objectivity-truetonature-mecha/

The authors conclude that

“… an ability to label what is otherwise invisible, functions as the code marking-off a boundary between real professionals and novices or the boundary between the members of a specific laboratory culture and outsiders. Our current data reinforce this view suggesting that there is an imaginative constant to experts’ images, depending on their embodiment of relationships toward objects experienced thorough the material realization of experiments (see Radder, 2012).  “