ICAT Honors class gets visit from Science Museum of Western Virginia

(This semester, I’m teaching an Honors course all about ICAT. We spend each class period in a different ICAT studio or on a different ICAT project. This is the last in a series of guest blogs from my students. Enjoy! ~Phyllis)

From guest blogger Willow Pedersen:

This week, Hannah from the Science Museum of Western Virginia visited our class. With her, she brought water cups, plastic Easter eggs, water balloons, rubber bands, paper clips, and more. Our challenge was to make an object with neutral buoyancy, meaning that it floated in the water, but didn’t sink down or float up to the surface. Almost everyone started with the Easter eggs. My partner, Adham, and I did this. We glued over the holes so that more water wouldn’t come in. Adham explained to me that there was an air pocket in the egg, which I hadn’t realized, so we needed to weigh it down. We cut paper clips to try to weigh it just enough but ended with a final strip of rubber band (the metal was just a little bit too heavy). We watched our classmates experiment with bottle caps, corks, and masking tape.

Once Hannah saw that Adham and I were finished, she gave us another task: create a neutral buoyant object without using an egg. We started this task with a bottle cap and foam, weighed down with buttons. When we realized it wasn’t heavy enough, we reused our paper clip clippings from the Easter egg, which was slightly more effective. While we didn’t get the second object neutrally buoyant, we were one of t  he only groups to successfully complete the first task.

Hannah has all age groups do this activity. It is called problem-based learning, learning from the process of solving a problem. Hannah explained that younger groups tend to find solutions more quickly because they are less intimidated and discouraged by failure. Problem-based learning is informal—we don’t actively seek to learn from the process, but we do. From this, I learned that Easter eggs have air pockets in them, a hot glue stick can be pushed down to get more but the stick will turn into glue before you can get it all out, and foam gets waterlogged and eventually sinks. I went into this to solve a problem, but I ended up learning.

In the context of museums, Hannah said, much of learning happens from experimentation. The Science Museum of Western Virginia has a Scratch area that allows children to program a caterpillar to move from one point to another. It teaches children the fundamentals of programming as they use the program.

What surprised me most about today’s class was how different museums can be. Though I hadn’t thought about it, I realize that a science museum is totally different from an art museum, and it has to be. While children or adults can interact with exhibits to learn about science, that’s just not possible with art. One of my favorite museum moments, in which classroom learning translated to an emotional understanding, was when I visited the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC. There was a room with the shoes of the victims. There were so many pairs, and the pairs represented more people. It was overwhelming and put so much into perspective.

In reference to SEAD, Science, Engineering, Art, and Design, I would say that from the scientist’s perspective, museums use all four. Art and Design are used to come up with exhibits, science and engineering to build them. From a visitor’s perspective, I am concerned only with Art and Design because that is what I see and what I interact with. In the future, museums will be even more interactive. I think as we rely more and more on the internet for our learning, museums will be a supplement. They have physical representations of what we learn about formally. I think paintings may become 3D. At least when 3D Holograms become more popular, there will definitely be interactive holograms in museums. I think there will be museums devoted solely to technology, like the evolution of computers, and tours may not even be given except for guided audio tours. However, I think museums will still use problem based learning to encourage experimentation, and therefore, successful informal learning. Though museums are not necessarily on the forefront of people’s minds, museums fill a niche unlike any other, and a world without them just wouldn’t be as full.

Willow Pedersen: Business. Music. Poetry. Data. Leader/learner. Incredibly lucky to love my life. Inspired to help others love theirs.

Albemarle County High School visit to Cube

A few days ago, about 30 high school students interested in VR came to visit Virginia Tech.  They toured Doug Bowman’s 3D Interaction Lab in the Perform Studio, the DAAS studio, and the ARC Visionarium.  They were a great group – very enthusiastic about the opportunities here at Tech.  Here’s a photo album of their visit they were kind enough to share!

https://goo.gl/photos/sWEWGMmdNZzZgmsd6

ICAT Day 2017

Yesterday was ICAT Day!  A lot of amazing projects at the nexus of science,  engineering, art, and design from around the university were exhibited.  Check out the Flickr photo roll here:

ICAT Creativity and Innovation Day 2017

Also, some local news stations were there!  Here is their coverage:

http://www.wdbj7.com/content/news/Virginia-Tech-researchers-give-community-sense-of-place-on-ICAT-Day-420945803.html

http://www.virginiafirst.com/news/local-news/vt-research-project-allows-people-to-experience-life-during-world-war-i/704397021

Two of the major projects I’ve spent time on this year, VR Physics and Vauquois, were present at ICAT Day.  I will be posting more soon showing the outcomes of these projects as we finish wrapping up for the semester, but for now I will just post a couple of photos from ICAT Day.

Honors class explores evaluation of informal learning

(This semester, I’m teaching an Honors course all about ICAT. We spend each class period in a different ICAT studio or on a different ICAT project. This is another in a series of guest blogs from my students. Stay tuned for more. Enjoy! ~Phyllis)

From guest blogger Eliza Hong:

Our class on Monday centered on the importance of evaluation of projects and specifically in application to ICAT day. Dr. Julee Farley came to share her knowledge on evaluation with us and also led us through an activity where we came up with novel and cheap ways of evaluating something like ICAT day.

Summative evaluation is evaluating a project’s outcome, whereas formative evaluation centers on the process while the project is happening. Dr. Farley explained why these types of evaluation are important, and also the difference between evaluation and research.

Before giving us any information, Dr. Farley had us group in three groups to come up with novel ways to evaluate ICAT Day, leaving even what we evaluating up to the groups. By not giving us prior information, the idea was that we would come up with more broad ranging ideas. For this project, we were given several guidelines: the solution had to be novel (which mostly meant no surveys), cheap, not bothersome, and not collect any personal information. Our groups centered on evaluating how many people visited the exhibits, and which ones were visited most often. The first group talked about a bingo game that would be filled out with stickers from each exhibit. Prizes would be given out to those who won the game or filled out the entire sheet. Having different stickers each hour would also indicate how long a given person had stayed. The second group came up with the idea of an app that would explain exhibits to people (Pokémon Go –style?) and possibly track them. My group had very (er-) interesting ideas, from voodoo dolls to food to destruction. We settled on a passport idea that participants could decorate with items from each exhibit, similar to the idea of the first group, of tracking which exhibits were visited more often.

We then talked about the ways that ICAT Day was being evaluated and had been evaluated before. Phyllis told our class that something similar to the sticker-at-the-exhibits idea but with stations at several corners instead of all the exhibits. We were then given an overview of the survey-heavy methods for evaluating ICAT Day, although a new position was just created to be a “Creative Evaluator.” For now, we were told, this position would consist of counting things, inspired by a commercial of the man who broke the record running the Appalachian trail (how many hamburgers he ate, Red bulls he drank, etc.) We finished off the class by assigning everyone to different shifts for volunteering on ICAT day. All in all, evaluation was presented in a new light to me, as something that was meaningful and could improve projects, and we get to have a part in it for ICAT Day.

Eliza Hong is a student bombarded with fresh ideas out of ICAT (Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology) at Virginia Tech, wanting to make the world a better place while finding her own mission. Eliza is hoping to transfer into industrial design; she is interested in interdisciplinary creativity.

Honors class: Communicating Science with Improv

(This semester, I’m teaching an Honors course all about ICAT. We spend each class period in a different ICAT studio or on a different ICAT project. This is another in a series of guest blogs from my students. Stay tuned for more. Enjoy! ~Phyllis)

From guest blogger Chad Biever:

Well, score a victory for the non-traditional classroom experience. This week’s class took us beyond the traditional classroom lecture and beyond even the less-traditional lab tours. Instead, we played a series of improvisational theater-inspired games to help us learn to communicate science to the public. We then discussed the importance of being able to communicate science and the challenges we may face in trying to do so, and how these ideas may be applicable in the future.

List out the activities we did, you would be hard-pressed to show how they teach us to discuss science. We opened with a name-learning game that connected every person’s name to an action related to an activity they liked to do. This seemed more successful than the many name-learning exercises I’ve been subjected to over the years. We then moved into a game that had us standing in a circle and looking to make eye contact with another person in the circle. If that person you see said “yes”, you would move to take their place. Move too early, and you were out. While the word “yes” lost all meaning after a while (and left me wanting to listen to 90125), it did show some principles of conscientiousness while working with others. Another game that had us having to call out an assigned number as it constantly shifted sought to teach similar ideas.

Perhaps the most interesting game happened in the middle of the class. We were first asked to make a circle. Then we had to make a letter A. Then a letter P. We had our right to speak taken away. Then a letter S. We lost our right to gesticulate. Then a letter Q. Then a circle again. Everything was going smoothly. Then a T. Then an M. Then an elephant. That threw a wrench into our plans. Without any way of communicating besides body position and facial expressions we had difficulty coming to an agreement about whether we were making a 2D or 3D elephant, an elephant face or a full elephant, or a what any of this stuff looked like anyway. This was interesting, since our ability to make letters was improved by not being able to talk. When the goal was clear, the nonverbal cues and subtle elements who took on leading and following roles proved more beneficial to communication. When there was more intensive thinking involved, verbal communication became necessary. This called attention to the importance of nonverbal cues in communication, a fact that often gets lost in my particular world of engineering memos and diagrams.

I’m in the College of Engineering, and engineering as a subject area lives downstream from science. Transferring knowledge from science to engineering is usually done through the trusted mediators in the Engineering Science & Mechanics field, the most feared of all engineering disciplines at Tech. But surely the profession would be well served by greater understanding of science. It increases the number of things that engineers can consider in their design processes, and thus design against a greater number of failure cases. Engineers would also be well served to see examples of how design and maintenance is handled in areas outside their own; you can look at the biology-inspired machines of Boston Dynamics to see examples of the creativity that can be unlocked when this occurs.

Engineers can also use theatrical techniques to explain their own field. Engineering is a tricky discipline to explain to the general public, since much of the field is, frankly, a bit dull. Even explanations of cool stuff like robots tend to either devolve into technical jargon or stay at a surface-level discussion. Since engineering affects just about everything in the world these days, it seems unwise to keep the public out of the loop. Finding out-of-the-box ways to interest the public will require thinking clearly about what would interest people outside of the engineering bubble by analyzing what they would emotionally connect to. Then we could develop engaging ways to hold public interest.

Communication is fundamental to accomplishing anything in STEM fields, yet it is heavily deemphasized in favor of technical knowledge. To be sure, many engineering majors would rather solve heat transfer problems than hold a conversation with a stranger anyway. But through entertaining games and exercises, perhaps we can make some headway and show STEM professionals what a delight it can be to share your knowledge with somebody else and have them understand completely.

Chad Biever is a mechanical engineering student trying to escape the typical engineering design team experience and find new ways to solve problems. He has particular interests in robotics, 3D printing, and part design work.

3D modeling for the Honors class

(This semester, I’m teaching an Honors course all about ICAT. We spend each class period in a different ICAT studio or on a different ICAT project. This is another in a series of guest blogs from my students.  Stay tuned for more.  Enjoy!  ~Phyllis)

From guest blogger Justin Gravatt:

In this week’s Honors service learning class, we took a trip to the Create Studio. In the Create Studio, we learned about different ways to create prototypes. Before class, we learned some of the terminology that is used in three-dimension prototyping. Each of us also designed our own object to prototype using a free computer-aided design program, TinkerCad. We then printed out each of our objects using one of the 3D printers that is in the space. Some of the things that the lab features include two 3D printers, a laser cutter, basic hand tools, soldering supplies, electronic testing equipment, and several other prototyping tools.

Although this was not my first experience working in three dimensions or using prototyping tools, I still learned some interesting new things. I first used this technology in high school. I now regularly use three-dimensional modeling and create prototypes as an architecture major. The TinkerCad software is very easy to use, but in that aspect, it doesn’t have many features that other more advanced computer-aided design programs have such as AutoCAD or Rhino do.

As technology advances, it also gains more applications for its use. Today, 3D printing is not just used to make prototypes but also used in making products as well as in the construction industry, the food industry, and even in the medical industry. The technology has advanced to a point that it is possible to 3D print organs. This use, once fully developed, will make it possible to save a lot more lives by being able to create organs for those who will otherwise die. In the construction industry, it is now possible to 3D print a house out of concrete in less than a day.

Overall, the Create Studio provides the equipment necessary to generate working prototypes from the thoughts in one’s head. This studio and the other spaces that we have explored in class really show that ICAT has the necessary tools to foster creativity and innovation.

Justin Gravatt is a first-year Architecture student at Virginia Tech. His interests include real estate, intelligent infrastructure, and sustainability.

Exploring making and tinkering with Honors students

(This semester, I’m teaching an Honors course all about ICAT. We spend each class period in a different ICAT studio or on a different ICAT project. This is another in a series of guest blogs from my students.  Stay tuned for more.  Enjoy!  ~Phyllis)

This week we visited the 3D print lab, the Fusion Studio, and a couple of other of the amazing new spaces at Newman Library.  Students were asked, “What are your experiences with making and tinkering? What was new to you about what you saw at Newman Library? What conditions and mindsets do you think are necessary for making and tinkering?”  Two students’ contrasting responses make up this entry.

From guest blogger Emily Barritt:

Making and tinkering are simply names for actions that people have been doing for years. The idea of creating something from nothing is what is behind making, and the idea of iterations, not 100% knowing what the end design is an allowing the creative process flow through multiple developments is the true essence of tinkering. One cannot work on a making and tinkering project with a closed mind about the end goal. Instead, one needs to approach the project with open arms and be willing to let what comes of working and reworking the given problem guide the final product. As disappointing as it is for me to realize, I am not a good maker or tinkerer. As somewhat of a perfectionist, I have a hard time failing and learning as I work through the problem. This is something that I have been trying to work on and I am actively looking for outlets to “practice” my maker and tinkering skills. I am strongly considering working on a simple design project for the 3D printer as a way to explore my maker side.

I am almost embarrassed to admit that I did not know that any of the resources that we saw today were available at the library. This class was definitely an eye opener for me. I am excited to see what new things are created from the spaces that are being developed for students. The library is most definitely doing their part in helping VT students invent the future.

Emily Barritt is a scientist who plays music, and a musician who studies science on a quest to integrate her fields to work towards developing something bigger than herself. She is eager to explore the new technologies of the day and integrate creativity, arts, and technology to develop new innovations.

From guest blogger Pamela Kryschtal:

What are your experiences with making and tinkering? 

This past week was my favorite class so far.  I felt a real connection not just to my major, engineering, but to my engineering law minor as well.  I would heavily consider myself a maker and a tinker, I like to come up with things I can use by recycling old objects.

I made the following headboard out of 2x4s, 4-inch foam, and fabric:

I made the following duvet cover out of purchased fabric and an old top sheet:

And I also made the following DVD shelf for my boyfriend out of an old pallet:

What was new to you about what you saw at Newman Library?  

Having not entered Virginia Tech as a Freshman, I’ve always found the library rather intimidating.  I barely know how to print anything or even check out a book, let alone 3D print something.  So essentially, it’s easy to say that everything was new to me about what we saw in Newman Library.  I talk about this class a lot with my friends and I can’t wait to show them the spaces I’ve discovered and reserve time to play with 3D technology.

What conditions and mindsets do you think are necessary for making and tinkering?

As I mentioned above, this week’s class connected to my minor of engineering law.  I think the first condition that is necessary for making and tinkering is the feeling of safety that the maker’s intellectual property is protected.  If people don’t feel like they will be able to maintain control over their own ideas, they will be less likely to take chances and attempt to make.

The mindset that is necessary for making and tinkering is that of creativity and fearlessness.  The creativity approach is obvious, as the word “create” is the root of the word.  The fearlessness is important when taking chances and being open to the idea that it might not work and that’s ok, because it also might work and be amazing.

Pamela Kryschtal is a seasoned but enthusiastic engineering student at Virginia Tech.  She is driven by a passion for experiences and communication.

Alternative realities – art and architecture + Mirror Worlds

(This semester, I’m teaching an Honors course all about ICAT. We spend each class period in a different ICAT studio or on a different ICAT project. This is another in a series of guest blogs from my students.  Stay tuned for more.  Enjoy!  ~Phyllis)

From guest blogger Sean Jocher:

Today we started off by walking through the Art galleries on the first and second floors of Moss Arts Center. We were told to look at each painting without reading the description to try and understand what is happening without the context. When looking at the portrait of Monticello flooded, I could not grasp how they had real water in Monticello without damaging the place. After we were told that the Monticello in the painting was a model replica, I was shocked. The attention to detail that the artist put into the replica must have taken him tens of hours for a tiny house. This opened up my eyes that artists can put incredible amounts of effort into the paintings for them to see realistic and noteworthy. Most of the other paintings were the same way. Huge with immense attention to detail. I was definitely intrigued looking at all the works from the artists and how they relate to each other.

After the art exhibit, we learned about the mirror worlds project. This is one of the most fascinating projects at moss arts center to me because it directly relates to what I want to do in the future. We learned that the project uses fish eye lenses around the building to see where people are and portrays them as an avatar in the virtual world. The algorithm to get the location of each person from the camera was very interesting since it required more steps than I thought it would. Someone mentioned that using an infrared camera would be more efficient which I also thought would be a great idea. I was sad to hear that while the infrared camera was considered, the cost greatly outweighed the quantity of cameras they could use with a budget. I was amazed to learn that every aspect of mirror worlds has been carefully planned out and tested. The working product placed around MAC is amazing because it is very cool to see when myself show on the screens when I walk around. I asked what kind of hardware would be needed to run the mirror worlds program, and I happily learned that they are using some very powerful servers to do the job. I believe mirror worlds has great potential since it is the bleeding edge of technology.

Sean Jocher is a computer enthusiast! He loves learning about new technologies and how they can impact our lives.

 

Tissue Scaffold VR

Professors Chris Williams (Mechanical Engineering, Engineering Education) and Tim Long (Chemistry) along with grad student Joseph Kubalak are interested in using the Cube to explore the deviation between 3D models and the 3D printed physical manifestations of those models.  So far, we have explored two models – a tissue scaffold (normally about thumbnail size) and a dental model.  These models were printed and then CT scanned.  The scans were converted into meshes, and analyzed for the difference between the scanned version of the physical object and the original 3D model.  That analysis was applied to to the models as color.  At that point, they sent me the scanned meshes (with vertex color) and I tossed them into Unity so we could explore them in the Cube with our tetherless VR setup.  Here are two quick videos showing what they’ve been looking at:

Map of Science

Over in the VT library, Michael Stamper was recently hired as the Data Visualization Designer & Consultant for the Arts.  It made sense for Michael and I start a dialogue and figure out how we can help build the collaborative work between the library and ICAT.  As a starting place, we decided to create a 3D VR visualization of the Map of Science (http://www.mapofscience.com/, http://sci.cns.iu.edu/ucsdmap/).

This is the first iteration – a direct translation of the ucsdmap data set into virtual space.

We have to figure out where we want to go from here, but it was an excellent first step!