Cass Sackett, Physics

For my dream idea proposal, I’d like to suggest soliciting a group of students to create a unique artwork for our physics building. Let me explain a bit how this idea developed, and then more specifically what I’ve had in mind.

I’ve been teaching classes on lasers and optics for the past few years, and one of the things we always talk about are holograms and how they work. I had the idea that it would be fun to let interested students actually try to make some holograms. (Some students get a chance to do this already as part of one of our lab courses, but there you don’t really have enough time to do it right.) It occurred to me as well that our building is pretty lacking in aesthetics, and that we might be able to put the students’ work on display.

After further thought, I felt the hologram idea might be too limiting. There are all sorts of technically interesting art techniques that students might enjoy learning about, and that would make great display pieces. Some other thoughts were kinetic sculptures (with motor-driven parts), laser-light displays, using strobe lights to capture falling water, or art using technically interesting materials. A more general program would get away from learning specifically about optics, but would maybe prompt some students to think about
the relation between science and art. I think that might be more interesting from an overall educational perspective.
So I would propose to announce a sort of contest for one or more art pieces to be displayed in the building. I’d have students or teams of students submit their ideas to me before doing anything, and depending on the cost of the projects I’d fund one or more
from the Endowment fund. Part of the funding would be an honorarium for the artists, I was thinking perhaps $500 per team. Hopefully, that would be enough to encourage some interest. I would also try to encourage our science students to team up with friends who are actually art majors; both the physicists and artists would probably learn more that way.

One concern might be whether any students will be interested. I thought that I could send the solicitation to the art department as well, because I would guess that students there might be more apt to take on a project like this. It would probably be easier to convince the physics students to participate in a team with some real artists than to come up with a project by themselves.
I think an art project like this would be great fun for the students involved, and I would enjoy mentoring them through the process. The final result would also really be of some use; our building is pretty drab, and some nice student art could go a long way towards
making it more inviting. Also, I should say that my wife Deana has been pretty excited about these ideas, and has helped a lot to come up with the final form; I don’t want to take all the credit. At any rate, we’re excited about this proposal, and I hope the idea sounds appealing to you as well!