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!

Seeing into the heart

 Our visual systems are pretty impressive. Even when we are looking at images on a flat surface, our brains use all sorts of cues to create a 3D mental map. Shading on round objects helps, and of course the differences between what your right and left eyes see. If it’s moving, foreground objects will move faster than far field, and they’ll be larger (motion parallax). Shapes change as they rotate, and our brains interpret that easily. Occlusion, when an object passes behind another, is a big cue. Babies stop laughing at peek-a-boo when they figure that one out.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my stereoscopic computer monitor, looking at flow in the right heart. It’s so complicated that even when I use lots of shading and occlusion, twisting and turning the representation, I still need the stereo cues to really see what’s going on. But it’s thrilling when I do.

So now I want to show it to everybody, but nobody else I know uses the 3D technology, even though it’s now dirt cheap (Thank you gamers!). So we’re back to motion parallax, shading and occlusion: it needs to move. The flow also needs to be simpler, so in this video, I’ve removed all the small velocities and vorticities, edited out almost all left heart and other extraneous flows, and tried to keep the colors from being overwhelming (although I love saturated colors).

Please enjoy this intro ride through the right heart. I hope to have more soon.

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.

Not an accident!

Flow enters the right cardiac atrium from above and below, bringing wall generated vorticity with it.

Here’s the image I was trying to get before New Year’s. This shows flow entering the right atrium of a normal subject’s heart. Blood flow is shown by the white pencils. Vorticity (the amount of spin of a bit of fluid) is shown by the colored arrows. Only the strongest velocity and vorticity is shown here, to keep the image from getting too cluttered. The right atrium is shown in transparent white, and the right ventricle is the big triangular shape in yellow. Flow is entering the atrium from the top, through the superior vena cava (SVC). You can see vorticity ringing the flow, since it is being generated at the SVC surface. Flow up from the bottom, through the inferior vena cava (IVC), is more complicated. Venous (return) flow from the liver comes in and wraps around behind the main IVC flow from the lower abdomen. The two flows mix as they enter through the bottom of the atrium. This is useful, since you want all the important chemicals from your liver to mix with the rest of your blood before it gets pumped to your lungs and beyond. Too bad this type of imaging (4DMRI) can’t give more details about the mixing process.

Graduate students interested in research with me?

As you can see, I have a small but active program, with lots of opportunities. However, I don’t spend a lot of time hunting for money, so I don’t have a lot of funding. No open funded positions at the moment, but when I do get an opening there often isn’t a lot of time to find somebody, so please check back here now and then. I’m always happy to help students apply for the NSF Graduate Fellowship, and explore overlapping interests with self-funded students.

I prefer to work collaboratively with my graduate students on topics of mutual interest.  I expect my students to be self-motivated and own their research. I love to provide resources in the form of basics like equipment, space and funding (when possible). I also believe it’s important to provide introduction to the academic research community; how to proceed through the iterative research process, how to mentor others, and how to communicate with peers and the public. In return I want to make contributions to fun and useful research, and to learn from my students.

Since my program is small I can provide individual attention. My current students are spread across my interests, with not a lot of overlap, so we have separate weekly project meetings (most projects have undergrads assisting us) instead of a big group meeting.

If you like the sound of this, please contact me directly!

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.