Do you remember products and fads that were super popular at one time but became irrelevant very quickly? I’m interested in what variables have part in making something thrive or fizzle out. Things like practicality, cost, environmental impact, advertising, even just how it looks and works can have detrimental impacts on the life of an idea. In 2001, Dean Kamen’s Segway became available for sale after a long period of anticipation and hype. What was to be described as a revolution in transportation was revealed as a fancy scooter. It balances itself, goes on various terrain, turns on a dime, goes pretty fast, and is an all around neat gadget to play with. It was also expensive, not entirely user friendly, and very quickly found its own niche, which added a super interesting social stigma. The Segway is still a part of society, Dean Kamen has an amazing way of engineering products that matter to enough of the right people.
My family came up for the weekend of Columbus day for a fair. During the ride, we began talking about engineering. We talked about robotic arms, how they work, and about the concept of the Uncanny Valley. The industrial design department had a tremendous influence on the final aesthetic outcome. A couple ways of getting around the valley were to avoid it all together and make it look like a robot. Why? Because… Another option is to make it an art piece – the nails can be removed and replaced with decorated nails, the exterior can be painted and personalized. The future of robotic limbs is full of art!
Our conversation then evolved into the electric wheelchair that can climb stairs and balance on two wheels. An issue one member of my family noted was the inability to adjust the angle of headrests in cars, and that the headrest of the wheelchair was no different. The headrest is able to move vertically, attached by two metal rods with divots to set the length. The ability to adjust the headrest in any way could potentially increase the comfort of the user.
We got to the fair. We spent all day there and had a great time!
Later that night I had a brilliant epiphany – one metal pole! On the top of it – a ball joint! The rest will snap into the metal rod with a soft plastic socket, and the headrest itself will have a hole in the center allowing the head to nestle in and give hands-free control. I called them up the next evening all excited and told them about my brilliant, totally unique ground breaking idea.
“Yes, a swivel socket you mean!”
That’s what I mean, I guess.
“Yeah there’s a few models with that attachment but you don’t see them much.”
In the back of my mind I knew I wasn’t the first to think of that. Now I feel dumb.
“But you thought of it on your own. You saw a problem and sought out solutions, that’s what matters in this field. Maybe you will envision an entirely new concept in engineering, just keep working at it.”
I got a small amount of courage from knowing I’m on a similar wavelength as engineers and artists. I’m doing the process correctly and will eventually be able to make my own path.
I feel like I had a pretty accurate idea of what interdisciplinarity is going into this. However, I was not expecting the extensiveness of the program. I learned that intermingling various learned skills to apply a new layer of understanding to a problem is categorized differently than having multiple disciplines that stay within each field. During my time here I was taking psychology classes and when I thought about my future and the psychology thesis, it just didn’t appeal to me at all. Getting the degree conflict notice on classes I wanted to sign up for was frustrating, so I started taking gen eds that sounded interesting that were not getting me anywhere. I wish I could remember who gave me the information about the interdisciplinary studies program but I owe them a bit of gratitude because it is exactly what I needed. I am pretty invested in this town and have many friends that are like family, so being able to build my dream program that lets me stay with my family is a level of serendipity I don’t think I can expect again in my life. I want to know everything. I want to know enough about everything to weave seamlessly through processes and contribute helpful information from a unique perspective. I use my tools to solve problems.
I waffle on being nervous about hirablility and job titling. Looking at many engineering firms offering employment to interns or junior assistants makes me feel like there is not room for my new skill set or that they will not be interested in hiring someone who is not fully and traditionally educated. I also have been talking to engineers I know and all of them say they have a hard time communicating between departments. A mentor of mine is a mechanical engineer and he told me just the other day that the people in his department will intentionally make their design ugly and not user friendly to give the design people a hard time. We talked about this department interaction while he and I looked at a panel of my car that had snapped off. We then went over either using a chemical epoxy and temporary clamp or a small screw to fix the panel.
The usefulness of interdisciplinarity varies between individuals. This path is entirely goal driven. If one’s goal is to become the best specialist in the area, an interdisciplinary degree probably won’t suit their needs. That being said, the ability to seek all kinds of information regardless of specialty has an innumerable amount of value. Multilateral thinking allows pathways to creative solutions from highly sensitive issues that span from individuals to the world. There are no easy answers to any worthwhile question, especially when the questions involve the quality of life of vulnerable people. Interdisciplinarity is so important to have when dealing with these wicked problems, to have so many skills and experiences will allow further understanding. I wish so much that those with the most control over society had more interdisciplinary skills. It is one thing to study history, but the ideal intersidciplinarian would understand the psychology of leaders, the mechanics of industry, and the balance of power and then be able to apply this information to current socio political goings-on.
One problem in engineering is a disconnect between the design aesthetics of technology that not only help determine whether something is physically viable but also contributes to ease of user interface, and the mechanical engineers and scientists who speak an almost entirely different language. I believe the disconnect between the arts and sciences have been polarized in society though the educational system, in that often we are taught that one is either in one or the other. Scientific discovery comes from the artistic spirit and the artist would be significantly limited without their carefully crafted materials.
The cerebral hemispheres and the corpus collosum are much like art, science, and the liaison between them. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body as well as logical thought, organization, and mathematics while the right controls the opposite side and contributes creative thinking, emotion, and instincts. But where truly innovative ideas come from is the communication between the two. The corpus collosum, like interdisciplinarity, opens the channel between worlds and allows application of both objective and subjective thinking. There are tons of ways to represent and apply this skill, and in this degree plan I will talk about my primary goal as an interdisciplinarian.
I have talked to many people in my ideal work field, engineering, and they have all said their jobs require use of vastly different skills. What I found out is that every step to creating or fixing something, for someone, for society, for the world, is a multi-faceted process involving many people, often with language, cultural, religious, and educational barriers. So what I want to do is be able to know enough about each field to traverse some of these barriers.
Imagine this: Your engineering company wants to build a water purification system for use in under developed countries. There is a long line of people necessary to make this a successful venture. There are the graphic designers that draw a blueprint in 2D or with computer aided design software that need to collaborate with the industrial engineers about the specific inner workings of this machine. Parts are drawn up and ordered from product manufacturers most likely from China, electrical and mechanical engineers put the system together and make sure it works. To get the product anywhere, it needs marketability, to be user friendly, and have a minimal environmental impact. My ideal job is to the fully entwined in this process – being the liaison between fields, understanding and re-explaining design issues to the engineers, or how to rework an aesthetic feature into a feasible mechanism.
The classes I am taking are primarily art and science with math and a little bit of psychology. PS3600: Behavioral Neuroscience explores the anatomy of the brain and how it controls each bodily function. A basic understanding of neuroanatomy and physiology will give me a well-rounded knowledge base. PS3140: Statistics in Psychology is an incredibly helpful class that is teaching me about unbiased, critical data collection, interpretation, and communication. These are essential skills for every subject dedicated to sharing information effectively. BI1120: Biological Science II will be a continuation of the biological sciences sequence. These classes cover experiments in a lab setting, the technical language of biology, and keeping an organized, professional lab notebook. Being well read in biological and other scientific aspects will be helpful in effectively communicating results in non-technical language. BI3050: Biotechnology will teach me about technical writing and a basic understanding of some complicated technology. MA2140: Pre-calculus will prepare me for calculus. MA2490: Applied Calculus I covers the application of calculus in various disciplines. This calculus sequence is algebra based, which is the most widely used form of math in scientific and engineering fields. PH2140: Physics II will be my continuation of the physics sequence. AR1120: Drawing Ideas, Interior, Land teaches sketching and 2D work on paper. AR1065: Foundations of Sculpture: Form 3D is the building block to 3D design and its practical applications. AR3160: Sculpture: Objects and Ideas explores aesthetic interpretations of forms. AR3060: Sculpture: Representing the body explores various sculpting material in organic forms. AR3940: Advanced Multidisciplinary Studies focuses on idea development and interactions with people across artistic disciplines.
Going to college for one degree lacks the input of other fields that could provide a valuable perspective. I have seen art students recoil at simple math like a vampire in the sun, a graphic design major begrudgingly attend an environmental geography class purely because she has to (as though the two do not correlate). But everything correlates. A study from Michigan State found that Nobel Laureates, through autobiographies, biographies, and obituaries between 1901 and 2005 were significantly more likely to have had a hobby in the arts and crafts than non-Nobel Laureates. The thought here is that instead of exercising just a few skills, those with interests in multiple fields have a higher ability to apply creative solutions to difficult problems.
Ancient scientists and astronomers like Galileo were first and primarily philosophers, calling their research “natural philosophy.” These fields started with the compulsively curious and were proliferated by the scientifically creative. In order to have a well-rounded view of the world, one must contain the ability to learn more than one skill. Life demands more than one skill to make change. Life demands a constantly unsatisfied quest for information and the need to keep improving.
I am currently taking a sculpture class that is touching on everything I hope to be working with. This class is teaching me the elements of design and has given me an entirely new perspective on functional aesthetics. The project I am currently working on is one of the biggest works I’ve done so far. I have been working with measurements of circumference, power tools, shrink wrap, and I have to make sure it’s pretty. This process has been so far part math and part trial and error – making scale drawings and translating them into life size was a learning curve I (and many people in the class) had to grasp. The strips of wood are of varying thicknesses, so some of the thicker pieces would snap if bent too far. Assembling rings into the cohesive pattern we’ve drawn out on such a large scale takes consistent and accurate measurements.
This project is leaving me a little bit overwhelmed at times. Doing math on a theoretical object and trying to translate it to this limiting medium leaves a lot of room for error. Many of which I’ve bravely run into. Unfortunately this caused a tremendous waste of time and materials. These materials are cheap and reusable so the impact on this particular project is not entirely detrimental, but in delicate and high priced field I plan on going into, this kind of amateur carelessness is not acceptable. Time is also a very valuable commodity and using more time to calculate and plan a procedure is arguably more efficient than spending time with trial and error.
Statistics in psychology has given me such a vast lexicon of understanding in the field of scientific experimentation and data analysis. The course spells out that quantifiable and consistently replicable data is the most viable means of drawing conclusions about our world, society, the universe, and any question that begs answering. We can’t know anything for certain. This class also teaches the necessity of questioning every piece of information being given to you. Being critical and independent is a defense against ignorance and manipulation.
Times of India’s Sangamesh Menasinakai reported on an engineering student at Angadi Institute f Technology and Management, Belagavi. Niranjan Karagi developed a water purifier that fits inside any bottle and filters contaminants with activated carbon, mesh, and cotton. This product was designed out of necessity – Karagi saw his friends and family drinking bacteria infested water because that was all they had to drink. In this interview, Karagi stated: “Contaminated drinking water can cause anything from mild gastrointestinal distress to serious bacterial diseases. Then I felt the need to make the lives of these children better.” With the help of the Leaders Accelerating Development, a foundation dedicated to helping develop technology in the third world, the student got the necessary funding and has sold thousands since its market release in 2016 for 20 rupees each. He is employing his friends and colleagues as market interns and has himself become the tycoon of this portable, inexpensive water purification industry that is also highly eco-friendly and humanitarian.
Having a great idea is great, but it doesn’t mean much without necessity, marketability, and financial support. Without Karagi’s acumen for business, his invention might not have had the success is has now.
Interview with Dr. Machnik
Interview with a Physicist
A large aspect of my field of study is physics based. Dr. Dennis Machnik is the only physics professor on campus and was kind enough to tell me about his educational and professional history. When I asked him what his professional career looked like he had this to say, “Physics is effectively applied math, and engineering is applied physics. Most engineering involves a lot of math. My field is astrophysics, but it’s still physics and still requires a lot of math. My Ph.D. is in radio astrophysics using radio telescopes to observe clouds of gas dust in space, pressure, density, temperature and so forth. Because if enough gas has enough density at a certain temperature, it will collapse and become a star and planets. That was pretty much what I was into – star formations.”
Dr. Machnik told me after is two years of post-doctoral research in 1981 he began teaching and hasn’t stopped since. He said people typically pair teaching with their own research, but he chooses to participate in community outreach programs. Machnik takes the portable planetarium, visits children in the community and neighboring disctricts and teaches them about space. Dr. Machnik has remained specialized and in a teaching position, and his advice was to first decide how much math I feel the need to take. He told me the design field has a spectrum between maths and arts and I should determine where on that spectrum I will be most suited.
Machnik recommended I take graphic design courses and accompanying maths and the physics based calculus class offered here.
We ended up talking for about an hour and a half after the interview about Klein bottles, space clouds, quantum mechanics, black holes, and simple math in economics, the heat emitted from cooling concrete in the Hoover Dam, how stars form and die, the fourth dimension, and tricks with optics. Talking to this man was both fascinating, fun and as he went off to class he kindly offered any help he could provide – telling me I’m welcome to come talk any time.
When I started college I was enrolled in the psychology program. I noticed over the years I was interacting with the same students, professors, and subject matter. Gregorian’s Colleges Must Reconstruct the Unity of Knowledge is a conversation about what college is and it’s role in a person’s learning and perspective. Gregorian says this about colleges currently, “Higher education has atomized knowledge by dividing it into disciplines, subdisciplines, and sub-subdisciplines — breaking it up into smaller and smaller unconnected fragments of academic specialization…” I think it makes more sense and is more of an asset to be well versed in a variety of skills rather than focusing on one thing.
When versatility is the nature of the interdisciplinary program, embracing new technology in to the learning seems like a necessity. In The Web We Need to Give Students, by Audrey Watters, she discusses the importance and many benefits of embracing the advantages of technology in learning. “Having one’s own domain means that students have much more say over what they present to the world, in terms of their public profiles, professional portfolios, and digital identities.Students have control over the look and feel of their own sites, including what’s shared publicly.” Having one’s own website is a powerful tool and will be a boon in many potential professional interactions.