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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Rutgers engineering looks at intersection of art in STEM

Written by Danica Sapit

Engineers are adding a new skill to their set: art.

A movement known as “STEAM,” a combination of Science Technology, Engineering and Math and Arts, has taken hold of Rutgers Engineering. The movement has been gaining traction over the last decade, according to the national STEM to STEAM group.

STEAM advocates the intersection of science, technology, engineering and math with the arts and humanities in a push for innovation, as defined by the Rhode Island School of Design’s website.

This ideology has begun to permeate in the Rutgers School of Engineering through education, research and campus organizations.

Various student-run arts and humanities clubs have risen out of the School of Engineering, such as the Engineering Honors Book Club and the recently formed School of Engineering Art and Photography Club.

Jean Patrick Antoine, assistant director of the Governor’s School of New Jersey, is the adviser for both clubs. He introduced three honors engineering students skilled in illustration and photography to each other to start the club.

Nitika Yadlapalli, a School of Engineering first-year student and co-founder of the Art and Photography Club, said the goal of the club is to create an outlet for engineers to express their artistic skills.

Christopher Guevera, a School of Engineering sophomore and the club’s co-founder, said art does not conflict with the ideals of engineering because engineers need creativity, not just calculations, to create anything new. Michelle Chernick, a Rutgers Engineering senior, also co-founded the club.

The School of Engineering Art and Photography club plans to begin to integrate music and creative writing into future plans, if interest proves strong enough, Yadlapalli said.

The club hopes to become an Engineering Governing Council society for funding of future art exhibitions and field trips, as well as monthly online competitions, talks, and workshops.

“STEAM works because … [we] don’t have only a left brain or a right brain,” Antoine said. “We have a brain.”

The advent of STEAM has laid the foundation for stronger bridges between each of the different engineering majors and designers.

The Rutgers Makerspace club on Livingston campus was founded three years ago by Mason Gross School of the Arts graduate James Brehm, has been a breeding ground for engineering and art student collaborations.

As it is stocked with 3D printers, mills, Arduino circuit boards, a laser cutter, a new Shop Bot and classes in technology or entrepreneurship, Richard Anderson, director of Virtual Worlds in the Division of Continuing Studies, said STEAM has been a good source of creativity.

Anderson said numerous capstone design projects, competition-winning entrepreneurial efforts and hobbyist endeavors were born at the space.

“A ‘maker’ is someone who takes the things around him and builds something new,” he said. “I think of making in crafts, computers, creative writing and so on. Everyone’s a maker.”

While Anderson cannot closely monitor each project, he said he sees numerous engineering, computer science and art students working and teaching each other in the space. Projects include a prototype of clothing with health trackers and a 3D-printed Rutgers Scarlet Knight robot that collects donations.

Engineering, computer science and art are the typical focus, he said, but he wants all students to get involved in making and entrepreneurship in order to get into prototyping. Anderson said this community of sharing works because a frequent overlap exists in the design processes in art and engineering.

What might be an interesting problem for an engineer but an experience for an artist can turn out to be the same project, he said.

“I’m all for bringing STEAM so that people can go into business or just think more broadly in and out of their own field, make things and enjoy changing the world,” Anderson said.

Bahman Kalantari, a professor in the Department of Computer Science at Rutgers, said he has been advocating STEAM since 2000 through his software, Polynomiography. According to his website, Polynomiography is “the art and science of visualization in approximation of zeros of polynomials.”

From Californian high schools to Tokyo middle schools, Kalantari has lectured on Polynomiography to introduce and integrate it into curriculums.

He said Polynomiography is a useful educational tool for getting people of all ages interested in mathematics.

Kalantari described polynomials as “games of hide-and-seek,” in that points in a polynomial equation are “hidden,” and finding that equation will reveal them.

The software’s interface allows people to pick points on a coordinate plane to create an image, and the program calculates the polynomial to produce it, he said. It can also take in an equation and output an image.

Kalantari said this has fostered experimentation and exploration of polynomials that go well beyond what is considered “useful” in education and the workspace.

The program takes a “backward” approach to solving and liberates math as a subject into an art form, he said.

“[Polynomiography] isn’t just images using math,” Kalantari said, “It’s an infinite medium — polynomials — with various uses. Art, math, science and so on.”

On STEAM, he said he would not have considered himself an artist before, but through math, he has grown closer to art.

Rutgers has demonstrated three realizations of STEAM: systematic art, abstract/creative approaches to STEM and symbioses of both.

The School of Engineering Art and Photography team hopes to introduce artistic ideas in fellow engineers, and Polynomiography has forged a balance between mathematics and art.

Many still regard the movement with hesitation.

Kalantari said he has not received funding for Polynomiography from the University since 2000, but this has not halted his passion.

He said many miss the educational value in his software’s images, and therefore, stymie real progress in various fields: mathematics, computer science and art.

Kalantari continues to be invited to lecture globally, in Aresty Undergraduate Research and in Byrne seminars, and he has started a clothing line modeling his “polynomiographs.”

“Engineers need to realize that there’s more to the world out there than math and science,” Yadlapalli said. “Imagine … a world with single-minded engineers. How terrible.”

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