The Aesthetics of Design(ing an new course)

This semester I am teaching a new course, the Aesthetics of Design. It is a mashup of industrial design, studio art and engineering projects courses. Grad and undergrad students from our Mechanical Engineering program, plus students from TAM and other programs will design and build artifacts with an aesthetic component, possibly useless things for art’s sake. Not your typical functional time-and-money oriented engineering project course, and not a traditional ‘industrial design’ product-oriented course either.

Continue reading The Aesthetics of Design(ing an new course)

Collected Fluid Artists

I’ve been collecting examples of work from fine artists who use fluid mechanics as a significant part of their media. Currently this collection is posted on as Flow Visualization on Scoop.it, but perhaps I will transition the collection to be part of my blog here. Meanwhile, here is a recent example:

Suggestions for artists to add are welcome.

Working the travel mix

For most of my career, I’ve separated travel for work from travel for leisure/pleasure. Maybe it was emotional laziness: it’s hard to switch gears, and leisure time seemed soooo precious that I didn’t want to contaminate it. And now that I’m halfway through our two-month European loop, yes, it’s hard, but it’s led to all sorts of authentic experiences we would not have had any other way. I’m loving it.

In the past, work travel meant somewhat stressful conferences, punctuated by brief exchanges with colleagues in cities that were often charm-challenged. If held in beautiful locations, nobody wanted to actually attend the sessions. I’d rather just go somewhere nice and enjoy it.

This trip is different. We are visiting people where they live. We get into town on the train, figure out public transport to get to our AirBnB or hotel, meet whoever is renting the space to us, and get recommendations for neighborhood eateries and shops. The next day I go to my host colleague’s office, see their work space, meet their students, maybe give a seminar. I get to really learn about what they are doing, their philosophies and approaches. I get very constructive feedback on my work. So much more valuable than what happens at a conference!

After, we spend another night or two or six in the area. We’ve done some touristy stuff, but not a lot. Our places usually have kitchens, so we’ll go to the grocery store and try to figure out what to get. Yay for the Google Translate app! Sometimes we get to meet up with Boulder or Balkan camp connections in these towns, and my colleague Einar Heiberg generously invited us to a dinner party at his home in Lund.

The hard part has been deciding what to do with unscheduled time: work vs exercise vs explore vs curate gigs of photos. Take the opportunity to sample a local European delight or finish that conference paper? Hmm. Go to the beach at Den Haag, or finish this post? In this case, I went to the beach. It was freezing, with quivering foam. Call it flow vis.

I’m so grateful for the privilege to have these choices!

Aesthetics and Emotional Engagement: Why it Matters to Our Students, Why it Matters to Our Professions

Kate Goodman and I have proposed a special session for the 2015 Frontiers in Education conference. Our goals are

  • To foster conversation and document ideas about how the aesthetic qualities of engineering topics can be used to deliberately draw the emotional engagement of students.
  • To gauge how the FIE community currently views the aesthetics of engineering, and brainstorm new visions for how aesthetics could be used to improve recruitment and retention of a diverse student population as well as lead to innovative methods for the teaching and learning of core engineering content.
  • To explore the feasibility of viewing aesthetics-driven emotional engagement as a necessity and not an ancillary benefit in course design.

Really, we want to move forward on creating community around this idea. Noah Finkelstein and I did a version of this workshop at the Physics Education Research Conference 2013,  and Kate and I did it in February at the CU Boulder DBER meeting. We’ve had great conversations so far, and FIE seems like the perfect next venue. Here is our proposal for the session, complete with details.

We are hoping that participants will be interested enough to check out this little background paper, or at least use it to decide whether to attend. Comments welcome!

Opportunities for Undergrads Interested in Research

Here in the Mechanical Engineering department at CU, there are many opportunities for undergraduate students to get research experience. Pretty much all of us professors have active research programs, and most of us welcome undergraduates to participate. If my projects don’t fit with your interests, don’t stop looking. On the department website you can find short descriptions of what each prof is interested in. They might also have an informative website, but don’t count on it. The best way to find out what a prof is doing is to ask them; make an appointment, say that you are interested in their work.

If you say you want to work with me, I try to find out what kind of experience you want so I can suggest projects to match. Some projects are hands-on design/build/test of a piece of laboratory apparatus for my fluids research or for the Flow Vis course. Some projects involve a bit of Matlab programming and/or data analysis from my research. A project might  be a literature survey on a topic of mutual interest, or might be interviewing other students and analyzing the results. Most projects are related to ongoing research, so you might be helping and be supervised by one of my graduate students. I’m also open to fluids-related ideas that you are passionate about. Whatever it is, I want a good match so you’ll be enthusiastic, self-motivated and dedicated.

Other things I look for in a research student:

  • Being a junior or a senior. This means that you have enough background in your discipline (whether it’s Mech Engin, some other engineering, filmmaking or whatever) to get started quickly. This is a guideline, not a hard and fast rule.
  • Having a partner or two lined up, with schedules similar enough that you can spend around 10 hours together per week, plus a short group meeting with me every week.
  • Being able to make a commitment to a total of 150 hours in a semester. Sometimes this can be spread out over more than a semester, and include part or all of summer. This means having a reasonable course load, and not a lot of other projects.
  • Production of a good final report. It will be due two weeks before the end of classes, so I have time to edit it and you have time for revisions.
  • I much prefer to work with CU students, with the hope that after I invest my time in you and get you trained up to be productive that you will want to stay on and work with me for more than one semester.

In return, you’ll get a taste of real research, including an experienced mentor (I’ve had over 150 undergrad researchers in my program), a great letter of reference for job applications, and maybe a research publication or two to put on your resume. You can also get either

  • 3 credit hours of Independent Study which will count as a technical elective in Mechanical Engineering. If this is in your plan, you’ll need to fill out the application form, get my signature, and get it to one of the ME undergrad advisors in time to register. Yes, it has to be typed, and we have to agree on the scope and methods.
  • OR
  • a bit of money. This is harder to set up, but I’ve been fairly successful helping CU students get funding from the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) here at CU (but watch out, the deadlines are waaaaay in advance). Depending on the project, there might be other pots of money around for funding.

I usually have 3 to 6 undergrads working with me at any given time. I’ll be posting about specific projects in the future, so if you are interested, check back here now and then.

What are classes supposed to be about, after all?

Kate Goodman has been analyzing interviews from our May 2014 Aesthetics In Design course. From a post-course interview:
“…she wants us to struggle… and in the same time not punish us for failing. It’s not about how well you do compared to others, it’s about how you really put in the hard effort and develop yourself, which is unlike any of the other classes. Other classes are based on competition.  This one is totally based on self-improvement to my understanding.  Because that’s what happened in the end when I sort of felt like I failed you know. But she was like, look what you learned, which made me feel so great because I did learn a lot.”

This made me feel so great! Sometimes education research reveals that students are not learning what we want them to learn, what we expect them to learn. When we find out that yeah! they did get it, well… sparkle.

NNMC seminar

December 9 2014 I gave an invited seminar at Northern New Mexico College. They are in the process of evolving from a community college with 2 year degrees to a four year college, and are starting a Mechanical Engineering Technology program. Their students are very different from the students here at CU: 75% Latino/hispanic, 18% Native American, mostly Northern Pueblos, with a wide range of values, interests and preparation levels. We are exploring whether something like Flow Vis offered to incoming students will help with recruitment and retention of this population.

Jean R Hertzberg, Katherine Goodman, Tim Curran, and Noah Finkelstein. “Flow Vis and Beyond: ⬚The Power of Aesthetics in Engineering Education.” Invited, Northern New Mexico College, December 9, 2014. Powerpoint PDF: Jean R Hertzberg et al_2014_Flow Vis and Beyond
And I got a very nice gift box.