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Chemical engineering researcher collaborates on interactive STEAM art installation

Bennett Leckrone and Colleen Carow | Apr 8, 2019
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Chemical engineering researcher collaborates on interactive STEAM art installation

Bennett Leckrone and Colleen Carow | Apr 8, 2019

A collaboration between artists and scientists will open at the Dairy Barn Arts Center on Wed., April 10, showcasing the importance of STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics – as well as the ideas of a Russ College lecturer and researcher.

The five-piece art installation, “Navigating Turbulence,” is part of the larger Open OHIO initiative, which aims to provide spaces for Ohio University students, faculty, staff, and Athens community members to engage in face-to-face communication with people from different walks of life.

Damilola Daramola, a chemical and biomolecular engineering lecturer and the assistant director for research for the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment (ISEE), said he suggested the theme “turbulence” because it’s a concept that can be applied both broadly in science and the world we live in today.

“The underlying theme was fear of change,” Daramola said. “Turbulence means uncertainty.”

Daramola collaborated with School of Fine Arts graduate students Owen Lowery and Ekaterina Izmestyeva to integrate engineering and science within two pieces that incorporated the theme.

Izmestyeva’s mixed-media installation, “Shape of the Future,” features the word “FUTURE” constructed in the metal gallium, which melts at temperatures greater than 85 degrees. Infrared lights heat the letters, and as the gallium melts from a crisply outlined word into a gelatinous blob, viewers can interact and touch the metal. Daramola ensured that the metal was safe to interact with. Izmestyeva said the piece highlights the process of change.

“The piece makes the process tangible and brings it to the degree of perceptual significance, as we see ‘before’ becoming ‘now,’” Izmestyeva said. “Melting of the ‘future,’ – affected by the temperature, surface properties, and other known and unknown forces – results each time in an unpredictable, unique shape, confirming our inability to predict the future, literally and metaphorically.”

Daramola said his role in Lowery’s piece, “The Entropy Machine,” an installation involving a curious structure, digital light and an interactive system, was to translate a series of engineering terms to numerical values. Meanwhile, Lowery loosely translated these terms to social/artistic equivalents. The installation incorporates the movements of those who interact with it, causing changes over time based on observer actions.

Lowery said that the machine was meant to show the spreading of energy from one person to another, aligning with the law that energy cannot be created or destroyed. Interacting with the machine, intentionally or unintentionally, shows that a person’s energy is part of a beautiful whole. Lowery said he doesn’t think about art as being separate from science, but rather views the two as a unified entity.

For Daramola, the installations are a way to spark conversation about STEAM. When something is expressed via art, he said, it becomes easier to understand.

“It’s translating equations to images,” Daramola said, drawing from his own experience as a lecturer. “If you can show a picture, people will better understand that.”

Daramola said he was impressed by the artists’ ability to encapsulate scientific terms and the theme of turbulence, and to incorporate them into engaging exhibits.

“The artists brought the ideas,” Daramola said. “We had to bring in explanation.”

Voinovich School Associate Professor Sarah Davis, the founder and lead coordinator of Open OHIO, said art can lead to thought-provoking conversation, which is what the initiative is all about.

“The world is changing at an unprecedented rate, and while we are more and more dependent on our digital identities, art helps us to remember we are human,” said Davis. “Sharing art with others reminds us that our collective creativity can solve problems.”

Open OHIO is sponsored by the Office of Instructional Innovation, Office for Diversity and Inclusion, Division of Student Affairs, and the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.

Marissa McDaid contributed to this story.