Art and Engineering Intersect in RIT Students’ Kaleidoscope Project

Engineering students collaborate with 2-D Design students to make spinning works of art




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Art, meet Engineering. Engineering, this is Art.

The two disciplines—two of Rochester Institute of Technology’s most renowned—intersected in a recent project involving kaleidoscope art and engineering design.

Kaleidoscope art is most interesting while in motion. But for years, students taking 2-D Design had to physically spin their computer-designed, hand-painted kaleidoscope-like paintings to enhance the visual effect. But no more after members of RIT’s student chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers stepped in. They created a motorized display board that, with the flip of a switch, turns a kaleidoscope painting into a spinning work of art. The result: a kaleidoscope in motion—as it’s meant to be—bursting with color and even new colors.

“We find that they actually transform, producing new colors,” explains course instructor Stephanie Kirschen Cole about the phenomena of an optical perception of color change. The kaleidoscope is the perfect tool, she suggests, for the study of color and color theory.

In creating the motorized display board, the engineering students designed a device with a sturdy base, an arm and a plate with Velcro to hold the painting in place, a motor powered by a 12-volt battery, and a potentiometer to regulate speed.

One the first project challenges, says chapter president Ramon Campusano, a second-year computer engineering major, was securing the painting to the metal plate without using a screw.

“Don’t touch the front,” Campusano says about the design consideration that leaves the painting untouched.

For Cole, who for years has showcased her students’ nonmoving artwork behind glass, the invention—a prototype—has given her colorful visions of grandeur.

“This is just a starting point,” she says. “I have this vision of well over 20—all spinning at the same time. This project has been very significant because of its interdisciplinary focus of art and technology.

Adds Benjamin Varela, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and chapter adviser: “This was a very interesting project because it involved art and engineering. Students had an opportunity to learn outside the classroom from other disciplines and to exercise their team-building skills—and it was fun!”

The kaleidoscope project wrapped up a successful year for the 15-member student chapter, which last spring captured first place in a Project Management Institute competition and second place in a contest sponsored by APICS—the Association for Operations Management. This October, chapter members will compete in the APICS International Conference and Expo national competition in Denver. In addition, the Xerox Foundation awarded scholarships to chapter members, funded the development of projects such as the kaleidoscope motorized display board, and supported students’ attendance at the National Technical & Career Conference 2007, sponsored by the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, in Denver.

Note: RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering is among the nation’s top-ranked engineering colleges. The college offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in applied statistics, engineering science, and computer, electrical, industrial and systems, mechanical, and microelectronic engineering and a doctoral degree in microsystems engineering. RIT was the first university to offer undergraduate degrees in microelectronic and software engineering. Founded in 1829, RIT enrolls 15,500 students in more than 340 undergraduate and graduate programs. RIT has one of the nation’s oldest and largest cooperative education programs.