The Art of Engineering
On a college campus, it would be difficult to find two subjects more different
from each other than art and engineering. Yet on the campus of the University
of South Florida, one engineering professor responsible for teaching classes
about differential equations and electromagnetism has created a popular course
that merges his research world with the world of fine art.
Incorporating the works of the masters, the tools of artists and the perspective
of engineers, David Snider has merged the two subjects into a single attempt
to broaden the perspectives of his students and open their eyes to a world
they might otherwise bypass.
“In college I avoided art classes because I felt out of place and ill prepared,” said
Snider, who has received a National Science Foundation grant in support of his
efforts. “Later, after I had gained an appreciation for all the pleasures
art can provide, I decided to design an art introduction where the technology
students are empowered, rather than handicapped. The fine-art students in the
class are simultaneously amused and awed by the unexpected viewpoints expressed
by the techies.”
Snider draws students in with topics that span from general interest – such
as early theories of light and the structure of the eye – to more engineer-centric
topics including a detailed exploration of the wave nature of light and the
creation of cameras, from pinhole to digital.
The course, which presents nearly 100 artists ranging from Ansel Adams to
Andy Warhol, even dabbles in new technologies researchers have been using to
forgeries or determine if a work was created by a famous artist or an understudy.
“The course gives engineering students the opportunity to think more creatively
about the impact of their field and the relationship between the arts and engineering,” said
Sue Kemnitzer, the deputy division director for education in the National Science
Foundation (NSF) Division of Engineering Education and Centers. “We also
expect that more students with these broader interests will be attracted to
In addition to hands-on laboratories where students create pinhole cameras
or attempt to dissect modern technologies, the classroom side of the course
language familiar to the engineers and reinforces engineering principles regarding
optics, electromagnetism and signal processing.
“In some ways,” added Snider, “my course is like an optics
review, where the laboratory is the art
Snider has had an impact. At the start of the course, he asks his students
to identify roughly 40 artworks, and the class average is usually five or
the end of the semester, students are scoring 80 percent while being tested
on 100 artworks from 50 artists.