If you want to put things in perspective, tune in to Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the new science series Seth MacFarlane 95 FAV helped revive this spring. And maybe you already have.
Since it got off the ground with a ton of hype last month, MacFarlane’s new Cosmos seems to be hitting a chord with viewers in all 181 countries where it currently airs. While it’s a lot glitzier than its predecessor – the late Carl Sagan’s popular 13-part PBS series from 1980 – the show does a great job of reminding us of our relative insignificance living on this “small speck of dust” we call earth.
As executive producer and prime mover, MacFarlane (second from right above) got the blessing of Fox – home base for his animated sitcom Family Guy – and teamed up with Sagan’s original creative collaborators: his wife and writer/executive producer Ann Druyan and co-writer/astronomer Steven Soter, who invited astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to stand in for Sagan.
As Forbes points out in this video made prior to the launch of the new Cosmos, MacFarlane is known more for the raunchy humor of his TV shows and movies like Ted than for his true interest in science. But he says the motivation for co-producing this impressive new take on the Cosmos concept stems from his reverence for the series he loved as a kid.
Carl Sagan hosting Cosmos in 1980
“Cosmos addressed questions that every human being has, whether they think about them on a mathematical level or just as a layman,” MacFarlane said in an interview quoted in the New York Times. “It presented them in a wonderfully candy-coated way for those of us who are not scientists, and yet it didn’t dumb anything down.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson hosts the new version of Cosmos
“No matter what you think of everything else [MacFarlane has] done,” writes a critic for The Wrap, “I think you’d have to agree: He’s using his power for good. Cosmos appeals to all our best instincts. It invites us to dream our biggest dreams, set our intellect free and come lay out under the vast twinkling sky.”
This morning Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee visited the Fleet Library at RISD to present the 2014 RI Science & Technology Advisory Council (STAC) awards. The grants facilitate collaborative research among the state’s institutions of higher education and support STAC’s partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF). This year’s seven winning research teams were awarded a total of $806,000 to study how marine life in Narragansett Bay is responding to climate change. Nature Lab Director Neal Overstrom, Head of Landscape Architecture Scheri Fultineer and Sculpture Lecturer Edythe Wright are all members of the winning research teams.
Neal Overstrom (left), director of the Nature Lab, represents his research team at today’s awards ceremony.
“RISD values creative problem solving, critical thinking and an openness to risk and uncertainty – fundamental and necessary skills in developing innovative approaches to the world’s most challenging problems,” noted interim President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID in the accompanying press release. “These STAC grant awards represent our belief that bringing art and design together with STEM disciplines can have a transformative effect on education, innovation and economic development.”
At the ceremony, Governor Chafee noted that the $9.3 million the state has invested in the program to date has yielded $36 million in matching grants and federal funding, thus boosting the local economy. Interim Provost Pradeep Sharma, who was on hand to welcome the crowd, noted that “diversity is at the core of creativity, and these awards are a testament to the power of diverse teams.”
Earlier in the month, Zoe Schlacter 17 FS (far left in the photo below) adjusted her round glasses before making tweaks to a fashionable shoe designed for a very specific client. “I’m creating a prototype of a sneaker for a young, homeless woman who lives in San Francisco,” explains the Foundation student while cutting out pieces of cardboard. “The sole of the shoe includes a hidden compartment for her to conceal money and valuable objects.”
Schlacter created the prototype in one of Brown’s labs during From the Bottom of My Fuel Cell, a full-day workshop hosted by members of the RISD STEAM group. There, Brown and RISD students divided into teams to create wearable devices meant to enhance the lives of fictional characters. After looking at rough sketches of their contraptions, designers from IDEO, an innovative consulting firm that specializes in product and brand development, offered students some welcomed advice.
Bill Stewart MID 96, an industrial designer who makes medical devices, encouraged the young inventors to make iterations of their prototypes in rapid succession. After inspecting a battery-powered device (shown below) that allows kitchen workers to receive a physical “shock” when someone is near, he pushed students to test out the technology as soon as possible. “It helps to see your product in 3D,” he explains. “You can find problems faster – and fix them.”
Brown students Mark St. Louis and Atty Eleti try out a wearable device they designed using Arduino, an open-source electronics platform.
Later in the afternoon, Stewart and Prat Ganapathy hosted a lecture in the Chace Center auditorium that explained the process they use when designing surgical tools. “We never throw out any of the ideas we generate during brainstorming sessions,” he notes. “You never know when they might come in handy.”
Learn more about the workshop at the RISD STEAM group’s site.
Public school art teacher Meghan Reilly Michaud 01 GD, past president of the RISD Alumni Council and now an ex-officio trustee, did a Google Hangout with NOVA Education this evening, speaking with great conviction on why she’s so excited about working with science and math teachers to integrate art into the mix. Meighan is a wonderfully passionate advocate for the value of this approach and peppers her presentation with plenty of RISD proof of the STEAM concept. It’s well worth a listen!
Starling flight paths
A recent story in the online news and technology magazine Mashable features time-lapse videos by Film/Animation/Video Department Head Dennis Hlynsky 74 FAV, pointing out their connection to RISD’s STEM to STEAM initiative. His work highlights “what a partnership between the arts and the sciences could mean for inquiry in both fields,” notes Mashable. And Cape Cod NPR affiliate WCAI concurs, having visited RISD to discuss STEAM with Director of Government Relations Babette Allina, who shared Hlynsky’s explorations as an example of STEAM at work.
Ducks wending across the water over time
Hlynsky’s videos use Adobe After Effects to track the movements of individual creatures within larger groups. A swirl of starlings in his Murmuration of Starlings piece, for example, reads like a map with the paths of each bird plotted out in space. “I’m not making a film,” he says, “but conducting an observation over time.”
Gulls in flight
Mashable also spoke to Neal Overstrom, director of the Nature Lab, who notes that scientists studying wildlife could use Hlynsky’s work to further their research. “Art and science are complementary modes of inquiry,” he says. “They help us understand the world.” And as Vice Provost Carol Strohecker points out in the same story, the videos allow us to study the animals captured on film while at the same time appreciating the elegance of their movements.
Assistant Professor of Foundation Studies Stefanie Pender MFA 09 GL is showing work through February 27 in Cloudy is the stuff of stones, a solo exhibition at the Yashar Gallery in Brooklyn. A 2009–10 Fulbright fellow, Pender moves easily between contemporary and traditional media, with her latest body of work reflecting the scientific formulas of 16th-century Italian glassmaker/alchemist Antonio Neri.
“In the endeavor to expedite natural phenomena, time and space is compressed using empirical approaches of craft and chemistry,” the artist explains. “This work involved mining and refining minerals using early scientific methodologies for emulating earthly phenomena.”
Just in time for the start of spring semester, Ryan Murphy 15 ID returned from a whirlwind trip to Mexico City, where he participated in the 89plus Americas Marathon: Autoconstrucción. The one-day marathon event for global artists/innovators born in or after 1989 took place last Saturday at the über-contemporary Museo Jumex in conjunction with Zona Maco, Mexico City’s annual contemporary art fair.
“89plus invited me to be a part of their project/organization and speak at the event,” Murphy explains. “The ‘marathon’ brought together young artists from all over the Americas, as well established artists such as Yoko Ono and Abraham Cruzvillegas.”
Murphy, who earned a Maharam Fellowship last summer to work at the World Economic Forum, spoke about “the need for artists and designers to expand beyond our traditional scope to affect broader business and policy decisions,” he says. “I referenced my work with the WEF and Microsoft’s Technology Policy Group, as well as the STEM to STEAM movement in the US and the need to create more opportunity for more artists and designers across the Americas.”
Babette Allina (above left) at last winter’s Congressional STEAM Caucus on Capitol Hill.
Babette Allina, RISD’s director of Government Relations, is quoted in Turning STEM into STEAM, a short piece that aired on Houston’s NPR station (KUHF-FM) on Monday. She admits to being a bit surprised that the STEAM concept has gotten so much traction nationwide, but notes that “it’s very much grassroots-based.” Allina also speculates that STEAM may be resonating with so many people because studio-engendered skills like critical thinking and making are becoming increasingly more valued as workforce needs shift in the 21st century.
At last week’s Care New England event on health care and design, medical professionals and designers heard from RISD students and alumni about some of the latest innovations and trends in this growing field.
RISD’s Career Center Director Greg Victory, conference organizer Michael Esordi 91 GD and Care New England CEO Sandy Coletta compare notes at the conference.
Organized by Michael Esordi 91 GD, manager of digital marketing at Care New England, Collaboration=Innovation focused on the work of Elio Icaza Milson 15 ID, Amy Goldfeder MID 13 and Ximedica CIO and co-founder Aidan Petrie MID 85.
Starting tomorrow – Thursday, August 29 at 2 pm (EST) – the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is hosting a three-part series of Google+ Hangouts on Air (open to the public) to illustrate “how the sciences, arts and humanities together respond to challenges and spur innovation.”
Called 21st Century daVincis: How the Humanities and STEM Intersect, tomorrow’s discussion features:
- Ed Ayers, president of the University of Richmond
- Cathy Davidson, member of the National Council on the Humanities
- Bess Evans, public engagement ddvisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
- Danielle Carnival, senior policy advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
On Tuesday, September 10 at 2 pm the next NEH Hangout – called From Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs: Innovation from the Arts, Humanities and STEM – connects directly with RISD since it focuses on STEM to STEAM and “how NEH, NEA and IMLS projects reflect the charge to integrate the arts and STEM.” This one features:
- John Maeda, president of Rhode Island School of Design
- Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (OR 1), Congressional STEAM Caucus Co-Chair
- Congressman Aaron Schock (IL 18), Congressional STEAM Caucus Co-Chair
- Perry Collins, National Endowment for the Humanities, Office of Digital Humanities Program Officer
- Mary Downs, National Endowment for the Humanities, Division of Preservation and Access Senior Program Officer
- Bill O’Brien, National Endowment for the Arts Senior Advisor for Program Innovation
- Helen Wechsler, Institute of Museum and Library Services Supervisory Grants Management Specialist
The third and final NEH Hangout in the series takes place on Monday, September 23 at 2 pm and is called Following Galileo: The Humanities and Sciences in the Classroom. This one features:
- Cathy Davidson, member of the National Council on the Humanities,
- Carol Peters, National Endowment for the Humanities Director of EDSITEment
- Maria Sosa, senior program officer at the American Association for the Advancement of Science
You can follow all of the hangouts on the NEH’s Office of Congressional Affairs Google+ site and if you’re live tweeting, use #STEMandHumanities.
For decades conceptual artist Alyce Santoro CEC 94 has been on a quest to elucidate the relationships between art and science. Her initial plan was to become a scientific illustrator, so she earned a degree in Marine Biology and pursued illustration through RISD’s Continuing Education program, earning a certificate in Natural Science Illustration.
Instead of finding satisfaction in creating illustrations to explain scientific phenomena to laypeople, however, Santoro found herself increasingly drawn to creating “philosoprops” – objects intended to stimulate philosophical discussion about the relationship between humans and “spaceship Earth.”
“It was becoming increasingly obvious that relentless exploitation of the features and creatures of planet Earth by humans is not sustainable,” says Santoro. “I started to see a relationship between the habitual separation of art and science and the common human perception of ourselves as separate from one another and the biosphere. I formulated a hypothesis that if we could begin thinking differently, we could begin existing differently – more constructively – in the world.”
Santoro is now seeking funds via Kickstarter to produce Philosoprops: A Unified Field Guide, a limited-edition book documenting her life’s work. “These objects are not traditional works of art,” she says. “Like the disciplines I have been striving to weave together, they are most meaningful in relation to one another. The book is about the kind of thinking that went into their creation, and about our potential as human beings to engage our creativity and imagination to craft the healthiest and most harmonious possible existence.”
Alyssa Mixon didn’t win this year’s Miss Maine competition, but she did win a $1,000 Miss America Academic Scholarship to continue her studies at the University of New England of Osteopathic Medicine. Her platform for the pageant was turning STEM to STEAM, and she cited RISD’s leadership role in the initiative in her statement.
“RISD and others are building STEAM but they need a catalyst,” wrote the beautiful and brainy Biddeford, ME resident. “Miss America is that catalyst. Working with RISD, I can accelerate the program’s initiatives, pushing it through to Capitol Hill until it becomes a household acronym.” And, she added, “No matter what path the next generation takes – whether it is medicine, politics or art – there will always be a demand for critical thinking and creativity.”
How great to know the message is really getting out there!
In an Ideas Bank piece in the August issue of Wired UK, RISD Trustee Jon Kamen makes a compelling case for the importance of adding Art to STEM education (better known at RISD as the STEAM initiative).
In the brief article, called Creativity is the missing ingredient in education, Kamen points out that:
“Companies have been desperately seeking [creativity] since the last depression. Creative thinking leads to innovation, and innovation leads to success. Sure, science, technology, engineering and maths are necessary, but without the initial creative stimulus for solving a problem or imagining the possible, nothing would ever be accomplished.”
In addition to being a trustee, Kamen is chairman and CEO of @radical media and his son is a RISD alum: Zack Kamen 09 ID.
[illustration by Ellie Forman Peck]
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of art and science fellowships sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 16 artists – including two from RISD – are showing policy-related projects at the AAAS Art Gallery in Washington, DC, through September 20. Called The Art of Science Policy, the exhibition focuses on how art and design can enhance our understanding of the policy dimensions of science.
Ryan Murphy 15 ID is showing Know, his all-in-one travel tool for the blind, which acts as a laser walking cane (to replace the more cumbersome old-school walking cane) while providing a braille-to-voice reader that makes it easy for blind travelers to check flight and gate information in crowded airports. Ryan is also a 2013 Maharam STEAM Fellow, meaning he’s doing a funded internship this summer – in his case, with the World Economic Forum – to bring art and design thinking to government and nonprofit organizations.
Recent grad Samantha Dempsey 13 IL is presenting her Maharam STEAM Fellowship project from last summer – a kit she developed at the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation to encourage improved communication between patients and medical professionals. Currently in limited use, the kit includes image cards, positive and negative stickers and other familiar, board game–like accouterments that prompt patients to create visual maps and diagrams to better explain certain issues.