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New classes integrate science and art

The courses will examine animation and dance through both artistic and scientific lenses

Though art and science often appear contradictory, students in two new classes this semester will have the chance to explore both forms, with some using animation to explain basic science concepts and others exploring the physiological benefits of dance.

In VISA 1800: “Communicating Science” and TAPS 1281: “Artists and Scientists as Partners,” students engage with art and science as two mutually beneficial subjects. A Rhode Island School of Design course called IDISC 1524: “Marine Duck Studio: The Art and Science of Ecocentric Practices” will also be available to Brown students in the spring.

VISA 1800 students focus on communicating scientific ideas through animation. RISD and Brown students — with varying degrees of art and science backgrounds — will explore different ways to demonstrate scientific concepts through artistic mediums.

Senior Lecturer in Neuroscience John Stein and RISD professor Steven Subotnick are collaborating on the best ways for students to develop these skills.

“We begin the semester with a series of guided exercises that introduce students to ways of using visual communication in the service of science education,” Subotnick wrote in an email to The Herald.

Students will learn to explain science through an animated video, which they will develop in a group.

The class addresses an important discrepancy between science and how it is taught to laypeople, said environmental studies concentrator Elizabeth Castner ’14.

“It’s really great for education,” Castner said. “Right now students are losing interest in science because it’s too hard. They don’t understand it.”

Under the tutelage of Julie Strandberg, senior lecturer in theater, speech and dance, and Rachel Balaban ’80, adjunct lecturer in theater, speech and dance, students in TAPS 1281  are examining the physical benefits dance can have on Parkinson’s and autism patients.

“The idea for this class came from a class I was teaching to people with Parkinson’s disease — because I could see the difference it was making for participants,” Balaban said.

At the end of the semester, students will lead their own dance workshops for adults suffering from Parkinson’s or adolescents with autism.

Strandberg and Balaban held auditions for the class in order to ensure an even distribution of self-identified artists and scientists, Balaban said.

“I’m interested in medicine, but I love to sing and dance,” said Isabel Sunshine ’16. “I’ve always said sort of casually ‘yeah it’s my therapy’ … but didn’t understand what that meant from a scientific point of view.”

In the spring, RISD’s IDISC 1524 “will focus on developing an ecocentric approach to design, with the duck itself as a client,” RISD professor Bryan Quinn said.

“How does the duck see the world? How does the duck hear the world? How does the duck touch the world?” he said. “Once we have a good fundamental understanding of that subject matter, the students will develop creative work that explores those themes.”

Part of the class will be studying the marine duck in the wild, Quinn said. Students will work with the University of Rhode Island and accompany URI students as they research the marine ducks in the field.

Brown students can either take the suggested three-credit class, which meets once a week, or the six-credit class, which will have an additional session once a week.


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