data visualization of martial artist using motion capture

Exploration and Expression: the Importance of STEAM

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“Art without engineering is dreaming. Engineering without art is calculating.”

– Steve K. Roberts

 As far as engineering blogs go, this quote is old news, however, it gets the job done. The two are like a long-distance couple. They seems so far apart and may seem to disagree on the little things, but in reality work in perfect harmony – complimenting each other’s gaps of, in this case, understanding and knowledge-base. They complete each other, and this isn’t just for art and engineering. This is art and design to all of STEM. If an engineer or scientist doesn’t understand this, they fail to understand the importance of their jobs, and the same goes for artists and designers.
Engineering is based on the need to understand the world and then the process of creating, designing and organizing solutions that are better, stronger, safer and more efficient. Moreover, the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics explores the world and how it works. Art is also the exploration of the world and the expression of what was, is and can possibly be. Without scientific research, art would be a reflection of the world without change for the better – a passive response to the happenings around us. Design would cease to exist because it is in itself the reaction to some form of innovation. As Steve Roberts says, dreaming. STEM would have to way of viewing the world in order to make the change, and no way of applying research to the world. Here is where there is a schism in our views on the topic. Mr. Roberts shows his bias as a computer programmer by seeing artless engineering as “calculations”. I see less than that. I work with humans, and at point in my life, planes. Everything you do in research with humans is based on creativity. My recent research is looking at varying postures in mostly static work in order to relieve fatigue and pain. That’s counterintuitive on the surface, but someone was creative enough to think maybe: it’s not the rest, but the variation itself, that is causing relief. Along the same lines are planes. As an aerospace engineer, I want you to know that aerodynamics is weird dark magic based on the expression of the world in technology. The Wright Brothers saw birds and decided to give themselves wings to fly. If you’re still not convinced, go look up: “how do airfoils work”.
Moving along (after your obvious head explosion)
STEAM (the term used to describe the critical and central importance of art+design in STEM education) is making headways. The Rhode Island School of Design spearheads a national initiative called STEM to STEAM while the House of Representatives formed a resolution to “adding art and design into Federal programs that target the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields encourages innovation and economic growth in the United States”. The resolution goes on to explain that artists and designers can communicate complex information to a broader audience while also bringing new models for creative problem-solving. They then went on to designate May at “STEM-to-STEAM Month”.
Happy STEM-to-STEAM Month!
With that understanding moving forward, a good scientist, mathematician, painter or musician knows that they must use every available resource to forge new, innovative paths – whether it is building a new part to send a rocket to the moon or using to new piece of mixed media to accurately display the texture of a tree in a distant sun-lit meadow. To be good at anything you do, you must think out side of the box and in and around the boxes surrounding your box. That’s what STEAM truly means, and why it is so important to always look for ways to incorporate art in scientific and technological research.

In the future, I will look to showcase different projects that obviously, and not-so-obviously, incorporate STEAM. The first of this series is my final project for a course I took this semester.
With an inspiration taken from movie animation, the experimental course combined biomechanics research with animation by merging two pipelines in order to show human movement in a new aesthetic. The engineers learned about passive optical motion capture using small reflective markers. They used Qualysis Tracking Manager (QTM) with a 10-camera system and marker labeling in Visual 3D. The art students groomed their skills in Motion Builder and Autodesk Maya for animation and rendering. Our two groups also discussed differences in terminology and pipelining between softwares. The end results were final group projects that was shown at an exhibition focusing on creativity, art and technology. Rather suiting if you ask me…

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Our project studies the contribution of joints during a karate combination. We, as engineers, decided to look at a combination of varying movements while the artists chose to show the combo in both realistic and abstract forms using traditional modeling and data visualization. The abstract form combined the angle and the magnitude of the resultant angular velocity for the right hip, knee and ankle joints to show joint contributions to movement through time. Below is the final project itself and some other videos and pictures of the process itself. I hope you enjoy!

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