Did you know that there are a seemingly endless numbers of colors of indigo?

"Indian indigo dye lump" by Photo by Evan Izer (Palladian) - Own work.

“Indian indigo dye lump” by Photo by Evan Izer (Palladian) – Own work.

The use of natural dyes involves the identification, collection, cultivation and conservation of dye plants, the use of chemistry, including natural mordants/fixatives, fermentation, the art of dyeing, and in many cases, an understanding of local customs and the historical context. Dye plants are often studied along side medicinal plants. In addition to plants, invertebrates and minerals are used sources for dyes. Authentically STEAMy, right???

Here’s link to a nice, older article on the topic, including diagrams some important flavonoid dyes:

And here’s another to the Facebook page of textile artist Hisaki SUMI. Check out her absolutely gorgeous images! (Thanks, Tani!):


I’ve got my ion you, baby.

When you think about music videos, you’re reminded of Orgo class, right? Dr. Neil Garg ( at UCLA has a  very popular Organic Chemistry class that includes a very popular extra-credit music video assignment. Students create ringtones, too. Despite the reasonable final exam mean of 72% last semester, the class fills to capacity (


Music with Science, Evolucio Radio (Marco A. Diaz)

Students are unable to get the catchy rhymes about reactions out of their heads, and they’re likely to remember these aspects of Organic for the rest of their lives. Lyrics are memorable because music is a multi-sensory stimulus that includes rhythm, rhyme, alliteration and melody. It also has emotional and personal components that reinforce long-term recall (  Students learn about teamwork – a workforce preparedness goal, animation, and audio and video editing. Hop over to YouTube and boogie to even more awesome chemistry tunes.

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:

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!

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 ( to 3-D printers to biotech projects to textile arts to robots, and the faires take place around the world.

The World Maker Faire ( will be at the New York Hall of Science ( in Queens, NY, this September. The Call for Entries ( 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

Dunk Tank Flambé

Ferris Wheel at Night (Tfioreze)

Ferris Wheel at Night

Okay, computer science  and engineering professors. Brent Bushnell and Eric Gradman of Two Bit Circus have proposed a Carnival of the Future with robots, a dunk tank flambé, a laser maze, a ring toss with ignition, even a motion-capture mechanical bull. The development and making of these high tech games require computer science, art and design, engineering, and math. Then the community gets to learn about STEM through interaction with the games. Check out the work of Two Bit Circus at:

Is their form of artisanal engineering adaptable to the undergraduate or graduate classroom?

If you’d like to support their vision, and I encourage you to do so, visit:

Does the Science Move You?

Movement/Dance is being used to teach STEM processes, especially those that take place at less accessible physical and temporal scales. Dance/movement can be used in undergraduate classrooms to teach, among other topics,

  • the action of ATP synthase
  • the movement of blood through the human body
  • the workings of an electron transport chain
  • the role of wave action in marine habitats
  • transport within the vascular systems of plants
  • the evolution of locomotion in vertebrate lineages
Tosy DiscoRobo is a dancing robot. The Best of Toyfair 2012 (Popular Science).

Tosy DiscoRobo, the Dancing Robot

When movement is used in STEM teaching, students encounter a novel way to learn the physical, chemical, and energetic components of systems. Students given full responsibility for developing a dance must ask questions about the science and have a rigorous understanding of their topic.  Dance allows students to explore ‘what if’ scenarios, to test hypotheses that would be difficult or impossible to test otherwise. Movement/dance allows students to express themselves creatively and as individuals, building connections to their core identities. Through this work, they are required to analyze and use the science, and are able to do so even when typical research facilities are lacking. If turned into a performance, dance/movement allows students to share what they have learned in a novel and engaging way. The importance of joy in learning can’t be understated!

Want to get involved right now? This Thursday, become part of a human DNA strand at MIT!

Dance is also used at the graduate and professional levels (more on that later) of science. The Dance Your Ph.D. Contest, sponsored by Science Magazine and AAAS, exhorts scientists to express themselves through dance, saying, “You’re a scientist. With your superpowers comes the responsibility to communicate the thrill of science to the public. Yes, sometimes in dance form. So dance like you mean it.”

Check out Dance Your Ph.D.:

It’s good enough for scores of Ph.D. scientists. Is it good enough for your students?

If you aren’t convinced yet, then watch this amazing Ted Talk by John Bohannon of Harvard University, the founder of Dance Your Ph.D.:

Now off to practice my jazz hands…

What Can Be Learned from Double Majors

A recent Curb Center report by Dr. Richard Pitt and Dr. Steven Tepper of Vanderbilt University addresses the rise of double-majoring among university students in the United States:

While this report does not address STEAM specifically, it does produce conclusions that have implications for STEAM at the undergraduate level.

For a student to experience durable learning in a STEM subject, it may be useful for him or her to draw connections between the STEM subject and his or her core identity. The authors demonstrate that core identities can often lie in the humanities, including the arts.

"Berlin to New York in less than One Hour!" written by Hugo Gernsback and illustrated by Frank R Paul in the November 1931 issue of ''Everyday Science and Mechanics''. (Volume 2, Number 12.)

“Double majors seem aware of the ‘status’ and ‘prestige’ of their majors. Science and economics stand out as the highest status majors (as rated, in aggregate form, by the students themselves); humanities are lower status majors. Interestingly, when double majoring students present themselves and their educational interests to parents and potential employers, they focus on their high status major. When they think about their own ‘core identity,’ they are more likely to focus on their lower status major.”

Moreover, there is the potential for greater creativity and risk-taking in STEM coursework, but this creativity is much more likely to occur for students who double-major.

“Eight percent of biology single majors report that their coursework allows them to express their creativity; but when biology is their second major 43% report that their biology coursework allows them to express their creativity. When it comes to taking risks, one percent of single chemistry majors report that they can take risks with their assignments, whereas 38% of students who take chemistry as their second major report being able to take risks with their chemistry assignments. For math majors, only one percent report that they can take assignments in multiple directions when math is their only major; when it is their second major nineteen percent report that this happens regularly in their math classes.”

This difference may be more likely in students who are more inclined to double-major because they take a variety of approaches to problem-solving, but double-majoring itself seemed to be the cause of creative ‘spill-over’  into relatively low-creativity coursework. Structured support in fields that employ greater creativity supports student creative work in STEM subjects.  A STEAM approach to teaching may have a similar effect.

I encourage you to read the entire report as their findings have multiple implications for major trends in university-level education.

The Use of Sculpture to Teach Protein Folding

One of the main challenges in teaching through STEAM is to find authentic connections between the science and the arts/design. The relationship between sculpture and protein folding is one of these authentic connections. At DePauw University, a collaboration between students and faculty members from the chemistry and sculpture departments involved the creation of sculptures that showed the folding of proteins. The result was true arts integration, a step beyond STEAM.

T0281-bakerprediction_overlayThe project, led by Daniel Gurnon, Julian Voss-Andreae, and Jacob Stanley, combined an art class and a science class, and included the participation of a guest artist. The students collaborated, solved problems, were inspired to do additional research, raised important questions about the science, and developed metaphors to address the conceptual challenges related to physical and temporal scaling. They certainly spent more time thinking about protein folding than they would have otherwise, and time-on-task often equates with greater learning. The tactile experience of constructing the sculptures also likely contributed to learning. The resulting sculptures continue to inspire learning by both art and science students through questions that are raised by the works and the resulting discussions.

In your own STEM teaching, are there structures that are challenging for students to visualize? Could sculpture be a useful approach? Would it be useful to collaborate with an art class? Would it be helpful to have an artist visit your classroom?