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‘Carousel of Physics’ Intersects Aesthetics and Engineering, On View at SBMA until Sept. 17

A portion of the “Carousel of Physics” Click to view larger
A portion of the “Carousel of Physics” (Bria Little / SBMA and DPEA photo)

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art has collaborated with the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy (DPEA) to formally debut the 2015 Mechatronics Project called "Carousel of Physics" that was completed in June.

Sixty-one high school seniors worked alongside teachers and engineering mentors for an entire school year to complete the carousel, which is a large-scale kinetic installation that combines science with art. 

The carousel consists of over 50,000 parts and is made up of 15 sectors in the shape of pie slices attached to a central core. Each sector was created by four students and demonstrates thematically-related physics concepts such as light, rotational motion and sound.

The entire project has more than 100 mechanisms that are controlled by a network of over 40 micro-controllers.

The sculpture delights audiences of all ages as metal balls make their way through a maze of ramps and mechanical devices on each sector. It was aesthetically designed with a nod to the red, yellow and blue palette and geometric shapes of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian and the De Stijl art movement of the early 20th century.

In addition to the physical installation, audio recordings, videos that incorporate photographs and time-lapse footage and the opportunity to converse with student docents who built the project create a dynamic environment to explore. 

Patsy Hicks, SBMA’s director of education, is interested in the innovative intersection of art and engineering that the carousel represents.  

“The 'Carousel of Physics' is the perfect hybrid vehicle to demonstrate the shared process of exploration, discovery and invention inherent in both art and science. The Museum is committed to the principle that the artistic process, much like the scientific process, is a form of inquiry vital to learning that includes observation, investigation, speculation, innovation, imagination and experimentation as a way of understanding the world," she said. "The work of these students in the DPEA beautifully illustrates how the mysteries of science can be communicated even more effectively when designed to be visually compelling.”

DPEA Director Amir Abo-Shaeer developed the project with this type of exhibit in mind. 

“I want students to have authentic educational experiences, and I consider the senior year their opportunity to live the reality of working in a design and fabrication laboratory," he siad. "With this project, each student started from scratch to develop and manufacture an individual project to integrate with their classmates’ projects to achieve a cohesive, collaborative artwork of impressive scope and scale. Now these students are interacting with the public about what they created and what they learned in the real-world context of an art museum installation.”

Lynda Weinman, long-time supporter of DPEA and co-founder and former executive chair of lynda.com, one of the most successful companies in online education today and recently purchased by LinkedIn, states, "If you believe in the power of education and the minds of young students, run, don’t walk to see the 'Carousel of Physics.' You will be dazzled and will learn to believe in the young minds of our community in a whole new way!"

DPHS and UCLA alumna Bria Little documented the project from start to finish and provided the photography and video for the SBMA installation. Her feature-length documentary aims to communicate the personal experience of students engaged in what she calls an educational revolution. It is being produced by Dos Pueblos High School teacher John Dent.

The "Carousel of Physics" was shown at the Bay Area Maker Faire 2015, where it received numerous awards. It is the DPEA’s first of several planned projects in Mechatronics, a multidisciplinary field that combines art, design, physics and several branches of engineering.

Following its Aug. 20 to Sept. 17 run at the Museum, the "Carousel of Physics" moves to SBMA’s Ridley-Tree Education Center at McCormick House through October 2015. There it will serve as the exhibit’s focal point for 4th and 5th grade art and science students in the Museum’s Art Express program.
 
— Katrina Carl is the public relations manager for the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

 

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