BioMusic

Male_Bonobo_Lola_ya_Bonobo_2008

Male bonobo (Pan paniscus) at Lola ya Bonobo, Democratic Republic of Congo, 2008

The term BioMusic seems to have many different meanings. At least a couple of them represent an authentic connection between art and science, and lend themselves to teaching and research at the university level. The research in this area seems to bring together biologists or doctors, musicians, and computer scientists.

One relates to the evolution of a musical sense as recently exemplified in research on bonobos (http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/15/us-science-animals-rythym-idUSBREA1E0ZL20140215) by Dr. Patricia Gray (https://performingarts.uncg.edu/mri/research-areas/biomusic) at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro (http://www.uncg.edu). This research involved an undergraduate research assistant. Other studies relate to whales songs and bird songs, and rhythmic abilities in parrots (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17065-dancing-parrots-could-help-explain-evolution-of-rhythm.html#.UwJ7TRayfzI) and sea lions (http://news.ucsc.edu/2013/04/sea-lion-beat.html).

The other meaning relates to the sonification of human biological data including heartbeat, brainwaves, respiration rate, or protein patterns or genetic traits. There’s even an ap for that : http://biobeats.com/our-story/. These topics related to health and biofeedback, as well as biological diversity.

Virtual STEAM

The field of scientific visualization represents an authentic connection between the arts/design and the STEM disciplines.  Daniel Keefe (http://www-users.cs.umn.edu/~keefe/dfk_iweb/Home.html) and David Laidlaw (http://cs.brown.edu/~dhl/)  recently reported on what they’ve learned through the their teaching in the field of Virtual Reality (http://ivlab.cs.umn.edu/papers/Keefe-2013-VR-Design-for-STEAM.pdf). VR is advanced visualization technology that has broad appeal for undergraduates of all disciplines.

Stenger with VPL gear. Nicole Stenger is a French-born, American artist and pioneer in Virtual Reality

Nicole Stenger with VPL gear. Stenger is a French-born, American artist and pioneer in Virtual Reality.

The authors discovered that when art and STEM students worked together on Virtual Reality data visualization projects, they each began to develop some expertise in the other’s discipline. This exploration improved cross-disciplinary communication, facilitating the collaboration.

The authors incorporated important elements of art classes into their teaching. For one, they used a critique-style discussion of work-in-progress. Scientists knowledgeable about the data joined in. They found these classroom critiques so useful that they brought this teaching/learning technique into other computer science courses. (I could see how art-style classroom critique could be useful in other STEM courses as well.) Both groups of students faced the additional challenge of effective communication with the scientists whose research they were representing. In life-after-university, this third party could represent a client or additional collaborator.

They also emphasized the importance of “sketching” prior to programming. Sketching took various forms including paper & pencil, a series of concept sketches using Adobe Illustrator, acting out possible user experiences, short films, sculptures, and prototyping in the CavePainting virtual reality system. Data display environments help to align sketches with the reality of the data.

This paper causes me to reflect on my own teaching and on the importance of reflection for learning. It’s important to slow down, develop lots of ideas, get lots of feedback, and learn how to understand each other.

The paper described here was published in the refereed proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality 2013 which was held as part of the 15th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction.

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.