An Animated Look at Scientific Illustration

No matter what your profession or passion, design is a part of it, even the most STEM'y ones. Allison Chen, RISD '15, believes that scientific illustration is a definition of STEAM... and she's right! It's Science, Technology, Engineering (how the body works in the case of biological systems) and Math ... and Art! This great post, from her STEAM Stories project (please follow it!) shows us how art and design are so embedded in our daily lives and our work.  Enjoy! And follow her and read these great stories.
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Before modern film and computers, scientific phenomena were recorded with meticulous drawings and paintings for centuries. These illustrations illuminated the unobservable or unclear, often answering, “Will that plant kill me?” or “What’s going on inside my body?”

Of course, we still ask these questions, and can now use new media to answer. Based in Seattle, Washington, Eleanor is a designer that puts a modern spin on scientific illustration. Having received her bachelor’s in molecular biology and done visual art since high school, she combines both passions to create stunning animated infographics.

“I think visuals really help explain science to the general public,” Eleanor said. “If you haven’t gotten a degree in it, it’s really hard to understand topics like global warming or GMOs. It’s important for actual experts to explain everything.”

When she isn’t working for clients such as Huffington Post and the Gates Foundation, Eleanor has the freedom to design whatever subjects strike her interest. These interests manifest in both animated and static diagrams that she documents on her blog tabletopwhale.com, where you can also find a tutorial that shows how she works with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.

One animation, 3 Different Ways to Breathe, compares human lungs with those of birds and grasshoppers. Watching the animation, you can see how birds can take in oxygen even while exhaling, and how air is transported directly into the grasshopper’s tissue cells.

“I had no idea that things breathed differently,” Eleanor said, “or that the way humans breathe isn’t even the most efficient.”

Another animation, How to Build a Human, depicts the growth of a human fetus from fertilization to birth.

“I really wanted everything to be visible at the same time,” Eleanor said, explaining why she chose the spiral format. “When I was reading about it in college, I had some trouble figuring it out in my head. It was described in the text but I wanted everything on one page.”

And perhaps one of the most visually interesting, Flight Videos Deconstructed compares the flight patterns of five flying species and depicts the curves their wings make in space.

As noted on the infographic, the project was an observational exercise and doesn’t represent any scientifically accepted information.

“You definitely can’t draw conclusions from these videos alone,” Eleanor said, “you have no idea if the animals were injured, how old they are, if they’re even flying normally. In an actual study they would’ve taken 30-40 animals in the same room in the same conditions, done in a lab so that a computer can map it.”

This serves as an important reminder that imagery can always be misinterpreted or contrived, no matter how beautiful. Eleanor has noticed a fair amount of science-related art out there that isn’t accurate, and encourages more communication between artists and scientists.

This Fall, Eleanor is returning to school to get her PhD thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation. Best of luck Eleanor, let’s hope your research will inspire more infographics in the future!

Eleanor Lutz: Blog, Twitter, Dribbble

Allison is a designer and writer (soon to be) based in Chicago as a DFA (Design for America) Fellow. She seeks to design for learning and play to help us better understand each other and the world around us. While earning her BFA in industrial design at RISD she co-led the DFA RISD|Brown studio 2014-2015, worked on STEAM learning tools, interned at various organizations, and helped build a solar-powered house for Solar Decathlon Europe 2014. Children are her favorite users, and she enjoys designing for the inner child in all of us. Through her STEAM Stories blog series, she hopes to bring together a community of passionate STEAM do-ers to inspire future interdisciplinary work in hobby, education, and industry.

A Biologist, Computer Scientist & Historian walk into a....

It is through eclectic, diverse, and seemingly random relationships, interactions and friendships that we learn and then change the world.  Andrew Kaplan eloquently sums this up in his post below he wrote right before graduation.  So much of our learning is from each other and I have learned so much from him over the past 3 years. Thank you, Andrew.
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To an old house on Angell Street*

As I sit writing this at my kitchen table, a housemate walks into the room and sits down next to me.

“How do you define religion?” he asks as he combs his unruly left sideburn with bunched fingers.

“What?” I respond.

“Just answer the question.”

I live in an old Rhode Island house on Angell Street with five other seniors. Our floors are sinking and our walls are thin; an open floor plan helps a whisper from the basement be heard in the third-floor attic. The house smelled of fresh paint the day I moved in.

Among my housemates are a neuroscientist, a biologist, a philosopher, a computer scientist and a historian. Or, looking at them another way, they are a dancer, a drummer, a basketball player, a teacher and a founder. And they are the blood pumping through the veins of this house, imbuing it with life.

Because I am about to graduate, people often ask me to describe my time at Brown. They expect tales of hallowed professors pronouncing truths in packed lecture halls. They expect memories of heartfelt conversations about the meaning of life on the quiet greens where foliage helps you spin nascent life philosophies into the early mornings. They expect stories of finding romance in the dining hall and losing it into the wild night. And I’ve had my fair share of those experiences.

But the old house on Angell and the people who live in it symbolize what has made my Brown experience unique. One of the greatest pleasures of the past four years has been discovering things I never thought I would simply by being around people who are so infectiously enthusiastic about topics I never thought I’d learn about.

When I think about my time at Brown, I think about one of my housemates working on a computer science project, describing the mystery of the deep web and the power of torrent — and blowing my mind in the process. Or when another inspired me to take NEUR 0010: “The Brain: An Introduction to Neuroscience” by sketching out an action potential’s effect on the nervous system. Or when yet another sat down next to me and asked me to define religion, prompted by a class project on religious law.

This is for them and for what they represent. And this is to thank the countless Brown students with deep-set passions who have passed in and out of my life, many of whom I consider my friends. Watching a fellow Brunonian’s eyes dance with excitement when discussing a subject they love is a truly special experience, one that makes this place so exceptional.

So here’s to a group of housemates brought together by a university that cultivates passions ranging from the microscopic to the universal to form a microcosm of my Brown experience as a whole. Here’s to falling down an intellectual rabbit hole and emerging hours later with a better understanding of what drives my fellow classmates. And here’s to acknowledging one of the reasons why Brown is so special: Each member of the Brown community has the ability to awaken that same curiosity and passion in you.

Lastly, thank you to the place I associate with that type of enthusiastic learning: an old house on Angell Street with an open floor plan and sinking floors.

Andrew just graduated from Brown University with a Bachelors Degree in Political Science. He was a 2013 C.V. Starr Social Innovation Fellow for Common Sense Action, which he co-founded with Sam Gilman. Andrew is moving back to NYC joining the Urban Fellows Program to pursue his passion for public service, especially for the homeless.

*Originally published in the Brown Daily Herald, May 21, 2015 and republished with permission by the author.

Why CEOs have Liberal Arts Degrees

Some of today's top CEOs were history, political science, sociology, chinese and music majors in college. They are leading global airline, chemical, healthcare, pharmaceutical, and financial companies, among others. There are very practical reasons for a Liberal Arts degree, and Samanee Mahbub (Brown '18) thinks the reasons are crystal clear.  Let's hear it from her. 
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A “Practical” Liberal Arts Degree

“Samanee, what on earth are you going to do with a history degree? I’m not sending you to college to become a historian.”

Those were the words my mother told me when I mentioned the idea of switching from the ever so pragmatic economics major to my newfound passion in studying the past. Not exactly resounding support.

As a college student in this technological era, I’ve felt the constant burden of having to pursue a “practical” degree. My uncle pushes engineering. My brother insists I take computer science. My dad says if I don’t like STEM, then economics is the best option for a woman who wants to pursue business. Yet my mind doesn’t light up the same way in microeconomics as it does learning about the overlapping women’s movement, anti-war movement and civil rights movements of the 1960s.  

Educating myself about the fall of the Roman Empire may not provide direct, transferable skills to the corporate office, the quirky startup, or any particular field of work. But I argue it gives me something even better: critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking skills. Quite the buzzword these days. The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines it as an “intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” I have a much simpler and arguably, more relevant definition: the ability to rationally use a mental toolkit to analyze a situation with which one might not have had previous experience.

History provides me with this mental toolkit. Through my classes, I’ve been forced to question the intentions of authors of primary sources, understand biases present within my readings and even my professor, observe the tone of speakers in context to their audience, and seek out further information to support the claims I make when I write my history papers. Now let me change some of the words in this paragraph and show you how my history major will prepare me for the business world.

Through my classes, I’ve been forced to question the intentions of [investors who want to pursue a particular M&A deal], understand biases present within [reports that do not recognize key factors that affect a company’s growth], observe the tone of my [interviewer] in context [of my interview], and seek out further information to support the claims I make when [I recommend a company to diversify their revenue streams in order to save their bottom line].

The situations I study in history are different, but as seen above, the skills used are the same. History, philosophy, sociology, or any liberal arts degree will not prevent me from pursuing a career in business. These disciplines provide me with a tool kit to navigate any situation I am presented, and in my opinion, make me a better employee.

So I’m going to take that Shakespeare class (or maybe not), I will learn about Karl Marx’s theory of alienation, and I’m going to delve further into Middle Eastern history. These are my passions. Even though they don’t directly align with my career aspirations, they will not take me out of the game. A career advisor once told me that those who pursue liberal arts majors and enter finance, consulting or technology are not the exceptions. They are the norm.

Therefore, I urge everyone who loves the liberal arts to pursue their passion. These pursuits are not lost in a world where STEM is rising. You will succeed because of the thinking skills you’ve acquired. And if you’re still not convinced, just remember, the CEO of Goldman Sachs is a government major.

Samanee Mahbub is originally from Bangladesh but has explored over 19 countries.  She's dreams of leading her country out of poverty.  While in high school, she started a 50-student organization supporting Acid Survivors Foundation to help rehabilitate burn survivors of acid attacks.  She is now the core programming director for the Brown Entrepreneurship Program and Head of Design for The Intercollegiate Finance Journal.  She's spending the summer in Dhaka doing microfinance. 

STEAM Needs to Spread

 

The Colonel and Deb! General Leadership is hosting a post by Col. Matt Fritz and me on why STEAM is so important - in the military, work, non-profits, and education - starting with education so it permeates our thinking.  I'm so honored to be writing with a very dear friend and courageous leader.

Why Art Matters as much as Technology

STEM to STEAM - the "A" in STEAM stands for Art/Design...and Afghanistan Air Force.  So thrilled to write this with my amazing friend Col. Matt Fritz about how STEAM was critical to re-inventing the Afghan Air Force! Yes, some parts of our military are design thinkers!  Thank you Matt & Switch and Shift.

"We don’t think of the military as a STEAMy organization, but parts of it are. As Deb described STEAM and its role in for/not-for-profit businesses, B2B and B2C, Matt realized that much of his work in his recent deployment to Afghanistan depended on STEAM. Building a new and resurgent Afghan Air Force from the ground up, while simultaneously flying it and using it in the fight, is no typical task. It is a combination of the complex, complicated and dynamic, to put it mildly."

Why Do We Teach Math So Badly?

Why are we so lousy at teaching math? Why can't it be taught so kids love it? Lukas WinklerPrins thinks there is a better way.  As a 21 year-old mathematician studying metrics, dynamic systems, involved in STEAM and a major Lego lover, his advice is first-hand, based on recent experience and worthy of experimentation. 
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When you think of math, where does your mind go? Tiresome sets of problems and difficult-to-understand literature? If so, you are not uncommon—there are not many who stay curious in math past grade school.

Sentiments of sadness at the public state of mathematics are well articulated in Paul Lockhart’s A Mathematician’s Lament and P.R. HalmosMathematics as a Creative Art. Both authors espouse mathematics as a creative, thriving field, but bemoan its opaqueness and terrible methods of teaching, with the former being largely a result of the latter. The articles articulate how American math curricula virtually prohibit the viewing of beauty in mathematical ideas, while simultaneously failing to provide meaningful everyday examples. The first point has to do with the chronology of math education.

When educators shield students from the terrors of “higher mathematics” (proof writing and analysis), they are inculcating a fear of it. A beginning violinist can gain much from hearing a masterpiece performed, just as a budding painter can learn by observing and emulating the masters in art museums—even if neither of them can fully comprehend the thoughts and meaning that went into creating the pieces. The deep understanding comes through material practice, knowledge of context, and an ability to self-discover. Almost all three of these steps are scrapped in math education (only bits of the first, through rote memorization, remain).

To be fair, this might be a problem at multiple levels. Students can be complacent or passive, teachers not well-trained in their field, and university professors doing arcane research instead of bringing their knowledge to the public sphere. But we have to start somewhere.

I propose a three-pronged approach to tackle this at the K-8 teaching level.

Tactility

Many approaches to early-age math education start with physical play. The most famous set of math toys, perhaps, are Cuisenaire rods* (used for ratios in Montessori-style schools). This teaching method comes out of necessity: it is the most directly relevant to children of a young age. Tangible objects are immediate and visual, giving students spatial and relational understanding of numbers as objects with weight, color, and shape—attributes the human body is adept at measuring and understanding. Alan Kay referenced a letter Einstein wrote to the French Mathematician Jacques Hadamard: "'I have sensations of a kinesthetic or muscular type.' Einstein could feel the abstract spaces he was dealing with, in the muscles of his arms and his fingers…”. Hands-on projects in math education give students the opportunity to form this sensibility through experience and introduction to some high-level concepts early on. The scope of tactile representation is limited, however, and ultimately students must learn to work with symbols.

Symbols & Language

Among the most difficult things in the study of mathematics for me personally is notation. Mathematics notation is capricious and context-sensitive, and as such the language is difficult to read and unintuitive. I again implore math educators to focus on the feel, or intuitive understanding of an idea. Language is important: it allows mathematicians to find unintuitive conclusions through intuitive use of syntax. How can we merge these©The Museum of Mathematics (MOMATH) two lines of thought?

As a transitional period of mathematics study, we can still use sensory means of explanation alongside the corresponding equations and symbols. In this sense Math can learn much from Language instruction—the idea of a thing must be known before the word can be learned. Groundwork on concepts can be made through intuitive means, but the notation can come as a simultaneous layer on top; thus, notation will be taught while accommodating for its arbitrariness. As students progress, they will carry their intuition into further symbolic manipulation.

Play

Beyond the issues of understanding and semantics, students must _care_ about what they study. Common rhetoric encourages focusing on “applications” of mathematics—word problems. I warn against this. Teaching by problems is constraining; elegant theories and patterns get squeezed into templates of problems, and the student will find it difficult to pull ideas from diverse fields to solve new and unseen challenges. Modern NBA MathHoopsstudents need to know how to navigate ambiguous and unknown problems.

Instead, I advocate for “play”. Play should be a bit messy, aimless, and bored, because these are ripe environments for creative action. But the classroom can be a gently guiding force. A community of students studying what they enjoy (through self-directed play) is a more effective learning environment than forced classroom material. Allow the student to guide herself through issues and questions that arise naturally. The key component is making sure the student can justify their choices and explain their thinking, pushing the student to become meta-cognitive and envision alternative possibilities.

All together, this means that a lesson should:

  • Introduce concepts through visual & tactile means for a more direct connection to the student.
  • Focus on use, meaning, and relations of an idea before enforcing a certain terminology or symbolism.
  • Allow for students to play with ideas themselves, nudging them towards correct use through communal experimentation.

Starting here, I hope we can help set the foundations for a generation of students who feel more comfortable, creative, and insightful in the field of mathematics.

To see some of these principles lived out in a college-level mathematics classroom, follow along with Studio Applied Math, a project by Lukas through Brown STEAM.

BIO: Lukas WinklerPrins is a mathematician and apprentice at Atelier Boris Bally. His work on metrics and dynamic systems has taken him to Thicket, a social design lab, Community Systems Foundation, and NSF grant work at Brown. He helped start Brown STEAM, a diverse team dedicated to innovation between the disciplines at Brown University, and serves as a STEAM advisor for three independent schools throughout the country. Lukas has also served as an organizer for Brickworld Chicago, the largest LEGO fan convention in North America. Contact him through LTWP.NET.

*Personal Note: I had Cuisinaire rods as a kid and loved them!! Math was fun and playful...so I used them with my kids! I don't know if it's related but they both love math!

How To Disrupt the Tech World

What is your image of an inventor or innovator? A man alone in a lab?  Increasing evidence shows most innovation comes from two or more people…one of whom might even be a woman! We stereotype innovators as men and mainly in STEM* products.  

A quick quiz – who invented the following: the circular saw, COBOL and the compiler, the windshield wiper, Kevlar and a radial keyboard for the paralyzed? [Answers at the end of the post]

Three years ago, Whitney Johnson asked me how I felt as the only female partner in my VC firm. I’d never thought about it before. I never felt any discrimination or lack of respect from my partners. From how I was raised through my education and my career at Bell Labs and AT&T, I never felt any gender bias. Maybe it was there and I was just insensitive.  I investigated – looked, listened and learned…and realized it was still an issue in the 21st century!

In June 2013, Vivek Wadhwa and Farai Chideya invited women to crowd-create a book on women innovators by sharing their own stories. I submitted one (Chpt 3, Disrupting My Way Through Life). Fast-forward ~ Innovating Women launches today! Vivek and Farai have curated a collection of personal, powerful, inspiring, encouraging, disruptive, and challenging stories of women who grabbed the status quo by the horns. The stories are from and about women from all over the world, in STEM, investing, non-profits and STEAM.   

The stories, including one by America’s new CTO and former VP at Google[X] Megan Smith, are the authentic voices of women who have persevered, overcome, created, and innovated their careers and accomplishments. This book is full with lessons for women, men, girls, boys, teachers, leaders, managers, even politicians on how to overcome stereotypes, stigmas, and artificial distinctions.  These lessons are being applied today and barriers are breaking down.

Freshman Engineers designing radial keyboard for the communication impaired (e.g., ALS)I am privileged to see changes first-hand.  Last April, I helped at the Assistive Tech Makeathon for students to create communication solutions for people who can’t communicate (like ALS). The rapid design-prototyping-iterating process resulted in several potential hardware and software products. Three freshman women engineers won the software award for an easy, attractive and quick radial keyboard!

Get Innovating Women. Read it, share it, discover, encourage and empower women and girls to create more stories so we can unleash the talent needed to solve the wicked problems facing our world.  Keep the stories coming!

 

 

 *STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math; STEAM = STEM + [Art + Design]

Inventors:

 

A Better World by Design

Indeed, we can design a better world! Since 2008, RISD and Brown students have united innovators around the globe, across many disciplines in a common goal, "Building a Better World".  

This year, I'm honored to do a workshop on applying Aristotle's classic virtues (e.g, love, courage, prudence) to the design process and innovation.  My required haiku:

Oceans deep hide rare

Blue Lobsters found in 'random'

Serendipity.

 

 

 

January's Top 5 Posts

The top 5 posts for January includes 1 from 4 months ago! Yes, Hanna McPhee's post on Design & Science is still a top post - as it should be!! Here are the top 5:

 

The Art of Science

I met Nick Mayer when ordering a gorgeous Blue Lobster print of his.  I have this thing about Blue Lobsters, seeing them in Maine and as a metaphor for innovation in that this rare phenotype results from serendipity and random collisions of genes. Nick's art is an amazing and beautiful integration of art and biology in watercolor.  Here is Nick's powerful story of how Science is Art and Art is Science.
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Art and science have played an analogous, ever-present role in my evolution as a person, like two arms of a chromosome swinging in a cell’s cytoplasm during metaphase, at times distant then colliding and exchanging information. 

As a child I always was interested in nature. I remember summer days catching frogs and turtles that in my nostalgia appear as a deep uninterrupted trance.  I recall hours studying the illustrations of deep-sea fish in my Time Life Series book The Sea.  Between the turtles, the illustrations in The Sea, and the romance of Treasure Island, I was launched on a trajectory that needed to seek out adventure, The Seaanalyze the world through intense observation, and then make sense of it through drawing. 

I rejected the status quo for a while seeking adventure aboard commercial fishing boats in Alaska and elsewhere, but eventually that adventure seeking turned inward.  After receiving undergraduate and graduate degrees in biology, I spent two decades working as a scientist.  I wore the hat of fisheries biologist, science teacher, environmental scientist, and even worked on an extraordinary robotics project, but in the end while the science jobs paid the bills, what I was really passionate about was painting.  A year and a half ago I simply could not hold the cork on my 24/7 geyser of creativity any longer and took the plunge into working for myself as a full time artist.  All of my experiences as a scientist have given me the background to be the artist I am today.  The transition to being an artist was a natural progression. 

In my mind art and science are so similar—the cornerstone skill of each is astute and reflective observation.  Both science and art are ways of making sense of the world, physics could not exist without 3D modeling, anatomy could not exist without illustration.  In early days science WAS art and pretty much that was it.  Look at the painstakingly scientific, yet beautiful art of Ernst Haeckel. The work of the naturalist in Darwin’s time was to be an illustrator.  Biology was the study of form and function and its resulting taxonomy.  In Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle Part IV: Fish, the entirety of the text is a description of W Hawkins’ illustrations, “There are no scales on the snout or jaws, or between the eyes, or on the anterior portion of the suborbital  . . .” (pg 4). The entirety of Grey’s Anatomy is the same, painstakingly astute descriptions of observations and the associated engravings. 

All this connectivity makes me scratch my head and wonder why STEM wasn’t always STEAM and why such aHaeckel Crinoid distinction is made between science, stereotypically left brained/ logical/ necessary and art, seen as right brained/ touchy feely/ optional.  My twenty years of work as a scientist has lead me to the conviction that science is subjective, based on context, and completely dynamic.

At first glance it is obvious that my work is highly influenced by science.  It is influenced by the master pioneers in this genre like Haeckel, Hawkins, & Audubon, who inspire my work.  While I am not the first person to have observed, painted, and classified a blue lobster, painting is the process by which I understand the blue lobster.  Once I’ve stared at a seemingly random pattern on a fish’s back for hours and hours, there is always a point at which I realize that it is not random; there is a pattern here, its just a very complicated one.  And then I paint it.

My most recent commissioned painting, a coelacanth, is a great example of this.  The coelacanth is essentially a living dinosaur—based upon the fossil record it was thought to have gone extinct 80 million years ago and then a live specimen was caught in the Indian Ocean in 1938.  They are the closest link between fish and the first amphibians, which made the transition from sea to land in the Devonian period. There is no other fish that looks remotely like a Coelacanth with their large head of bony plates, missing backbone, triangle-shaped spots, and small arms with hand-like fins on the ends.  Since sightings are relatively rare, especially of live, unstressed specimens, I had a real struggle trying to find some accurate reference photos for the color of these creatures. 

Nick Mayer: Pencil of CoelacanthOddly enough upon discussing the dilemma with my good friend Jon Council, the scientific consultant for a book I recently completed illustrating (Catalina Dive Buddies by Mike Rivkin), I learned that a friend of his, Laurent Ballesta, had just completed the world’s most extensive coelacanth expedition (speaking of serendipity and random collisions).  Jon made the introduction. The coelacanth is a slow-growing deep water fish, inhabiting depths from 300 ft-1,000 ft.  I was shocked to hear that Laurent Ballesta et al. as part of his Projet Gombessa dove to these depths with his team to gently capture the coelacanth in its natural habitat on film. Laurent shared his observations about the coelacanth’s color as well as some of his soon to be released photos of the coelacanth.  These photos are without a doubt the best images of the species the world will have ever seen when they are released in his upcoming book on the expedition in 2014.  The interplay of serendipity, science, and art resulted in the finished painting here.  Nick Mayer: Coelacanth

Of course, as with most rare species discovered these days, the current status is not a pretty one.  Despite the creation of a Marine Protected Area, the coelacanth are now being dredged from the depths by Japanese deep trawlers and the Tanzanian Port Authority has plans to create a deepwater port in the vicinity the sanctuary.  I will be donating a portion of my entire Coelacanth print sales to Oceana, one of the most solid organizations dedicated to protecting the worlds oceans.

Result of a #RCUS? Libyian & California Kids Sharing Art

Have you just started grinning when reading something? This post by Tomas Quinonez-Riegos will do just that! While being the international program director for iTeach, using video to teach English to kids all over the world (e.g., Cambodia, Panama, etc.) and spending his first semester junior year in Japan, Tomas has started yet another new venture, which he shares with us here.  How did this come about? By Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects #RCUS!  Read on, revel in his excitement and in the impact it can have.
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Just over two months ago as I wrapped up my preparations for a semester abroad in Kyoto, Japan, I decided to take a quick look at the TED activity in the area.  I am an unashamed fanboy and was curious to see how I could get involved in the TED community of Japan.  To my utter delight, I discovered that there was to be a TEDxKyoto conference during my second weekend in the city.  I applied immediately, held my breath, and let out a shout of joy and excitement a few days later when I was accepted.  On the day of the conference I arrived nearly an hour before the doors even opened to make sure that there was absolutely nothing I would miss, nothing I didn’t experience.  I had to make sure that I was able to soak up every last drop of TED that was offered.  I was not disappointed.  My twelve hours at the conference was an unbelievably stimulating torrent of inspiration, passion, and elegance that began with the gorgeous piece by a 13th generation Noh performer and continued with a series of Japanese and foreign speakers giving talks on their incredibly innovative work and honest personal stories.  From the artist who sat next to me to the people I met during the intermittent break periods, I found only openness and warm hearts.  One particular encounter, however, has carried on well beyond the conference.

During the lunch period we were served small, boxed meals and encouraged, in the collaborative spirit of TED, to sit and converse with other attendees we had not met or did not know.  After I received my lunch box, the man "Introduce Yourself" Drawing by California kid to Libyian Kidwho happened to be behind me in line met my eye and he complimented me on my bowtie.  I thanked him and as we started to walk toward the dining tables he asked me if I was sitting with anyone.  I told him that I was recently arrived into Kyoto and knew almost nobody, so I suggested that we sit together.  As we made light conversation I learned he was a 30-year old salary-man working at a pharmaceutical company in nearby Osaka.  When I asked him why he came to the conference, what he hoped to gain, he completely lit up.  He told me that although he is more or less satisfied with his day-job, he is a staunch believer the idea of art as a means of universal communication and dreamed about somehow connecting communities of children around the world through their artwork.  I was absolutely thrilled by the idea and could hardly contain my excitement as we bounced ideas off of each other, and furiously brainstormed the potential of the concept until the end of the lunch period.  The remainder of the conference fanned the spark we had ignited such that before we parted ways, we had decided on a follow-up meeting in Osaka a few days later.

From that meeting, the organization He(ART) Exchange was born.  The concept behind the project is that dialogue between communities that share neither cultural, geographical, nor linguistic commonalities is not only"Introduce Yourself" Drawing by a California kid to a Libyian kid possible, but critical to developing well-rounded understandings of today’s world.  By using weekly art projects as the “language” of this dialogue, students have a “conversation” with their partners abroad and in so doing are not only exposed to the lived reality of other cultures and peoples, but also develop an understanding of art as a valid and powerful tool of self-expression.  This, I believe, will have lasting effects as participants will perhaps one day be able to use their art to deal with and confront the various obstacles they will face throughout the remainder of their life.  From this idea, we developed a rough organizational model, and as my partner worked on developing the website and the legal documents, I began reaching out to schools, teachers, and educational non-profits in my network.  After three weeks we had finalized our first partnership between two middle schools in California and Libya, with schools in Panamá, Argentina, Indonesia, and Japan also interested in the project.  At this point we are still not sure what the impact of the project will be, yet based on the enthusiasm thus far from the teachers and students, we will try it out regardless.  I, for one, look forward to observing what eventually will sprout from the program.  I expect we may be pleasantly surprised. 

Integrating Design Theory & the Scientific Process

If you can't find what you're looking for, just create it! Don't let the world pigeon-hole you into linear paths...make your own. That's what Hanna McPhee did. She is an extraordinary kid and typical of the ones I get to hang out with. Hanna (Brown '14) created an independent concentration, Biologically Inspired Design and is working on her thesis. She is co-president of Brown's student initiative to incorporate the arts into STEM, STEAM and a project manager on Brown's solar decathlon "Techstyle Haus" team, of which about half are women! An oh, she also is a pole vaulter on the track and field team. This is Hanna's story of how she's working to create a common language to integrate design thinking with science and engineering.  
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Integrating Design Theory & the Scientific Process

I am sitting across the table from my thesis advisor. We stare at one another in silence, our faces reflecting equal levels of frustration. After a 15-minute debate on the differences between a parameter and a constraint, it has become apparent my advisor is an engineer, and I am not. My advisor and I meet weekly to discuss my research. Each week we inevitably hit a wall; expressing the same words, but interpreting them in entirely different ways. With a background in biology and design, my definition of details often do not align with an engineer’s. However, we both know the objectives of my thesis, and both want to work towards that goal (and diploma) 

So why are we having such a difficult time communicating?

It starts with the realization that our different disciplines do not speak the same language. Up until the past few years, my education centered around finding a path and, for the most part, sticking to it. If you are good at math, you stay on the honors track through middle and high school to become a “math person”. Even later, with a liberal arts education, I felt swayed to identify myself solely as a “biology person”.  There was never room for another subject like art, no space for speaking two languages fluently. My educational system created silos between the different disciplines. Once I chose one path, essentially my language, other subjects became foreign.

Connections are missing between these disciplines, and in particular between the arts and sciences. On almost every project I have worked on thus far, my analytical and creative teammates have struggled to connect. From deadlines to critical thinking, collaborating has been as difficult as a native English speaker interpreting Italian. Sure, perhaps some root words are similar. But you end up just speaking loudly at one another, waving your hands around as a flailing final attempt at communication.

Fortunately for me, I was given the opportunity to create my own concentration and fully integrate biology and design into one cohesive means of critical thinking. But it would be extremely naïve to think that type of interdisciplinary education can be implemented everywhere - and nor should it be. We still need the classically trained “quant jocks” as well as the “edgy creatives”. Without them, a melting pot of full-fledged hybrids such as myself would lose any sort of concrete base for reference.

So where do we go from here?

I believe each individual, no matter how much of a purist they may be in their respective field, should be responsible for entertaining interdisciplinary ideas. Exposing ourselves to different disciplines results in a better understanding of our peer’s work. With this deeper understanding, we create a greater means of respect. Whether that takes the form of double majoring, or simply taking a few electives, some threshold of interdisciplinary thought is important.

In an era where buzzwords like “collaboration” and “innovation” land you a job, its time to actually start flexing both sides of our brains. At the end of this journey, behind our various languages, it is surprising how similar my analytical and creative peers are.  My STEM friends always shudder at the free flowing process of iterating and prototyping. My designers laugh at the time spent nit picking over numerical data, seemingly so far removed from the problem at hand. However, at the end of the day, both are following almost identical steps towards finding solutions. The proof can be found just looking at the scientific process alongside design theory.

Although one approach may rely more on quantifiable data and the other on a more “human” means of communication, step by step the two share striking similarities. Combining these two theories helps me personally make sense of my own analytical and creative brain. When they come together as one scientific and artistic critical thinking tool, the result is a deeper understanding of defining problems and finding solutions.

In short, the banter between myself and my advisor is not about the difference between parameters and constraints. It is about the exposure to a new language.

My thesis will teach me many things. But I sincerely believe my weekly exposure to my advisor’s brain – and all the neurotic details that come with it – will influence me the most when I walk out into the working world.