Full Steam Ahead

Mathematician Roman Holowinsky, STEAM Factory chair and cofounder, has a natural facility for pulling people and ideas together. He and his colleagues are forming networks and exploring research collaborations and partnerships across disciplines campus-wide. 

“We recognize the benefits of approaching problems and developing projects together,” Holowinsky said.

“Our efforts to combine the knowledge, experience, and resources of the STEAM Factory’s core committee, members, and collaborators advances discovery and innovation by connecting the innate creative drive that propels each of our research areas forward. 

“Everyone involved contributes positively to our development, including the greater Columbus community. We’re constantly looking to build new relationships and bridge gaps.”

A grant from Ohio State’s Digital Union helped STEAM Factory members set up a collaborative public showcase at 400 W. Rich last January—a former warehouse in the East Franklinton area of Columbus that provides space for local artists, entrepreneurs, and performers to come together during its bimonthly markets.

Now, market visitors get a fresh taste of research from a menu that mixes the arts and humanities with science, technology, engineering, and math.   

“The STEAM Factory’s presence among the artists and artisans at 400 W. Rich is a great staging area for us,” Holowinsky said. “There’s a lot of creativity in downtown Columbus and we’re thrilled to be at the heart of it all in Franklinton. 

“Interactions between STEAM presenters and the public make Ohio State research accessible, and presenting on a regular basis maintains an ongoing relationship with the Columbus community.”

An Impact Grant from the university’s Office of Outreach and Engagement last spring fuels STEAM’s goal to continue to grow and expand its range of outreach activities.

“This grant makes it possible to think on a larger scale, one that helps us build greater public awareness and develop critical partnerships,” Holowinsky said.

One of those partnerships is with the Columbus Idea Foundry (CIF), a community workshop space, that provides tool and technology access. Part of the grant funds members to learn to use the equipment to develop skills to build more engaging research showcases for public display. 

The Impact Grant expands support of a variety of projects. 

Recently, it helped fund artist and STEAM member Stephen Takacs’ camera obscura Target Six-16 installation at the Ingenuity Cleveland Festival and at COSI. The modular, room-sized camera obscura is a to-scale replica of the iconic Kodak Brownie box camera, enlarged 17.5 times. Visitors can enter into the camera through an opening in the back and explore its internal workings. “There’s a certain magic and complexity to a seemingly simple device like a camera obscura, which causes us to reconsider the world around us,” Takacs said.

A university design class, taught by Liz Sanders, who specializes in participatory design research, is collaborating this semester with STEAM and Franklinton groups—400 West Rich, the Boys and Girls Club, the Dinin’ Hall, and the Columbus Idea Foundry—to do research for designing and developing products, services, and spaces. Students explore how their clients learn, work, and play, then engage them in the co-creation of their future spaces. “To be successful the students have to understand the true needs and dreams of others and then work collaboratively with the people who will ultimately use the space,” Sanders said. “It’s not about designing for them; it’s about the students designing with them.” 

“We can only do all of these things,” Holowinsky said, “because of the core convictions of our group; our desire to grow, to reach out to promote interdisciplinary research possibilities, and to disseminate our results widely. The more we are able to create new innovative work, the more we are able to engage the public.”

There is no shortage of new members and collaborative research possibilities, nor the enthusiasm and energy that drive them.

Much more is in the works as the next year unfolds: “Teaching Circles” for high-school math teachers, led by mathematicians Bart Snapp and Jim Fowler; and Rebecca Ricciardo’s chemistry class assignment that will have students not only creating pigments from organic materials, but using those pigments to create their own original artwork, potentially for public display.

This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2013 issue of ASCENT from the College of Arts and Sciences.


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