SCIENCE NEEDS ARTISTS

Reflections in a fountain at the main entrance of Pennsylvania College of Technology

“A life is a moment in season. A life is one snowfall. A life is one autumn day. A life is the delicate, rapid edge of a closing door’s shadow.” – from Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman

A poet did not conceive these lyrical lines. A theoretical physicist and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, who is also an acclaimed novelist and author, did.

Common misperceptions are that science and art do not mix, artists loathe math and science, and scientists are analytical, not lyrical. Alan Lightman’s work proves that theory is incorrect.

One of the first professors to receive a dual faculty appointment in science and humanities at MIT, Lightman introduced an examination of the significance, potential and limitations of major scientific and technological discoveries at Pennsylvania College of Technology several years ago.

Alan Lightman speaking at Pennsylvania College of Technology in 2014

Former colleagues Veronica Muzic and Mark Noe (both now retired) and I had the pleasure of convincing Professor Lightman to accept an invitation to visit Penn College via a telephone conversation.

As we described the college’s history, mission and emphasis on applied technology majors, he listened and formulated ideas for his inaugural presentation of “Our Home in the Material Universe.” Many of the ideas touched on during the 2014 appearance at Penn College are included in his 2018 book, In Praise of Wasting Time.

Another Lightman book published in 2018, Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine, prompted the The New York Times Book Review to declare, “Science needs it poets, and Alan Lightman is the perfect amalgam of scientist (an astrophysicist) and humanist (a novelist who’s also a professor of the practice of humanities at M.I.T.) …”

Lightman’s international bestseller Einstein’s Dreams is one of the most widely read books on college campuses. It is a favorite of Pennsylvania College of Technology physics professor, David S. Richards, who appears in Working Class: Competition Drives Innovation! Why Science Matters.

When I interviewed David for the Working Class documentary, he recalled, “When I was in college, I wasn’t sure exactly what path I wanted to go. I enjoyed literature and chemistry and physics. I went to a liberal arts college. I had a professor who was very dynamic and interesting, and told stories, and brought it down to earth, and made it real. He hooked me. He got me really interested in physics.”

Now David is helping Penn College students see the connection between theory and the practical applications of physics in the real world.

Physics is fundamental to Professor David S. Richards.

This level of engagement in academic study is possible when teachers help students connect theories with practical applications.

The Working Class: Competition Drives Innovation! Why Science Matters documentary is an excellent tool for teachers and parents to help students explore the connections between science and exciting careers in advanced manufacturing and engineering technologies.

Another tool to inspire students’ creativity in combination with science lessons is the Why Science Matters Art Challenge sponsored by Penn College and WVIA Public Media, producers of the Telly Award-winning Working Class documentary series.

The challenge invites student artists to depict the importance of science in everyday life and offers awards in two categories: K-6th grade and grades 7-12. Students may use any medium and supplies they choose. Deadline for entries is Dec. 1.

Entries are accepted via email, with a digital photo (jpeg file) of the original artwork attached. A separate email is required for each entry and must include the following information: challenge title (“Why Science Matters”); artist’s name; teacher/parent name and email address; grade; school (or homeschool); city and state; and entry category (Student in Grades K-Six or Student in Grades Seven-12).

A chosen artist in each category will receive a basket of books and supplies related to the art challenge. Email entries and questions to me, Elaine Lambert, executive producer of Working Class at elambert@pct.edu.

Our website http://workingclass.tv/ features images of past student art entries.

The response of students and teachers to our Working Class art challenges has been fantastic. They find – as we find in producing the series – putting forth extra effort always is rewarding.

And, according to Professor David Richards, our lives and careers mirror this fundamental law of physics.

“You always get out what you put in,” he declared. “We’re always transforming ourselves, and shifting ourselves from one thing to another. We’re still the same person. We’re always transforming ourselves, but at the same time, we’re one individual.”

Scientist. Artist. Technician. Teacher. We all have many sides that are worth exploring.

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