Most students in my Biomimetics/Bioinspiration course are already probably getting tired of hearing me say, “Integration is of the future!! We must learn to communicate across disciplines so that we can collaborate across disciplines. How else do we expect to be innovative if we stay in our own, isolated bubbles?!!?!!?” Considering we are only in our third week of class, this is all a little scary.
I am finally feeling a little vindicated, as someone else out there just might be thinking a little like me. Or, at the very least, he is seeing a broken educational system and is trying to address its problems. Paul Backett, Ziba’s Industrial Design Director, started a six-part series on one of my fave websites, Core77, discussing design education and how it should and can be revamped or renovated to reflect the tools and challenges of modern technology. He is seeing design students being taught concepts rather than skillsets, and using (consciously or not) technology to be lazy in their craft. Sounding familiar, fellow scientists?
Paul’s MO appears to be to teach design students through full-immersion activities so that they learn through experience rather than by reading textbooks and practicing visualization skills through copy catting an object (see Part 1). In the sciences, there are a few examples of this (e.g., see the CiBER program at UC Berkeley and Stanford’s Design Program, just for starters), but not nearly enough, considering the urgency of the situation.
In the meantime, I am looking forward to following Paul’s posts and gleaning some more wisdom from his thoughts…
I have just returned from a truly stimulating conference co-sponsored by RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) and NSF (National Science Foundation). The conference was entitled, “Bridging STEM to STEAM: Developing New Frameworks for Art/Science Pedagogy.” Attendees included everyone from artists and designers as far-flung as Japan, policy-makers and program officers from NSF, National Endowment of the Arts, and AAAS, accomplished academicians/designers from Brown, RISD, MIT… and then there was me… mesmerized, overwhelmed, and thrilled.
I realize this is not truly a direct discussion of biomimetics or bioinspiration, for that matter, but it is directly related. STEAM is simply a reimagining of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) with Art added in, to signify a new initiative to push for direct collaboration and synergy of the STEM fields with the arts. It also creates a clever, catchy, new acronym. My concern is with the question of whether we, as professionals, academics, students, ready for this collaboration, or are we looking instead at the generation of exactly what the new name suggests: hot air? And if we are ready, what can we do to maximize the success of this wonderful collaboration?
My personal hope is that the combination of art with the sciences will inspire and catalyze progress in both fields. To me, the contribution that art/design can make to the sciences is limitless (and thus a motivation for this blog). In the most obvious connection, art can help with maximizing the visualization and communication of our science. In fact, ask Edward Tufte, and he will probably tell you that the best scientists also have an impeccable design flair combining aesthetics with efficient information communication. See, also, the Nature Methods Points of View column by the Broad Institute’s Bang Wong, for monthly commentary demonstrating how basic design principles facilitate data accessibility. I think all us scientists have a lot to learn from our artist counterparts.
A more challenging aspect justifying combining arts with the sciences is in identifying how art can actually accelerate scientific progress. An excellent example of this is the use of animation software such as Maya for pushing forward X-ray Reconstruction of Moving Morphology (XROMM) development, an increasingly valuable tool for biomechanical analyses. Art can also inspire new science, as shown in the PBS documentary “Between the Folds“, in which the ancient art of origami is inspiring mathematics, engineering, and product design.
I leave the challenge of identifying how science can help the arts, to the artists, who can speak more directly about why they would want us in their world… and not for the lack of having ideas about how we can help (think prosthetics and ergonomics, for starters!).
The challenge of the STEM to STEAM conference was to discuss how we can increase the collaborations, to identify the similarities and differences among artists and scientists, and to devise strategies on how to go about bridging the gap… priming the machine, so to speak, for a rather revolutionary change in the way we all think about and do our work.
If you are out there reading this, please weigh in. I would love to hear your thoughts about this matter.
And I now leave you with a video of a project co-produced by one of the conference attendees, Jonathan Harris, called, “I Want You To Want Me.” He is only 30 years old, and already very clearly quite a force to contend with.