Musings #2: Collaboration
The one about cross-disciplinary collaboration.
We hear about the ‘ivory tower’ of academia and the insular nature of some academics that prevents them from working with others within their own field, let alone with other entirely different fields. Personally, I once had a client in an area that was attempting to encourage collaboration between related research groups, but the stakeholders were obstructed by a culture of reluctance to share work and ideas, and not just for ethical reasons. In the end, I believe the initiative was abandoned due to a lack of willing participants. Thankfully, with the growing number of new fields that blend disciplines these days, groups like this are (or should be) increasingly rare.
I also mentioned in the previous issue about how architecture potentially combines all of STEAM (including Medicine), but breadth of scope and cross-disciplinary collaboration is common across all the STEMM fields. No one is surprised that statisticians and data scientists work in a variety of industries, or that healthtech or fintech are a thing. Also, as most of our work in many of these fields are ultimately done for humans and humanity, it stands to reason that the humanities are going to be involved in some capacity.
But despite my mentioning all the new fields coming about, cross-disciplinary studies are not a new idea, and I want to share some of my favourite examples of this in practice.
Pictured is Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. It represents human body proportions and brings together science, mathematics, and art. da Vinci, an artist and inventor, had substantive knowledge of engineering and anatomy, and based his work on another multi-talented individual, the Roman Vitruvius, who was an architect, author, and engineer in his own right.
Hedy Lamarr was known as a bombshell of the silver screen, whose beauty inspired the characters of Disney’s Snow White and Catwoman (source). She was also a self-taught inventor who worked with avant-garde composer George Antheil to develop a frequency-hopping system. They patented it as a “Secret Communication System” which contributed to the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology we use today.
You can learn more about Hedy Lamarr in this podcast: American Innovations - XX Factor Hedy Lamarr.
As an aside, I was also tickled pink to see that they name-dropped Hedy Lamarr in the first episode of Marvel’s What If…? which was aired on the anniversary of Hedy Lamarr’s patent application approval date.
Tal Golesworthy, a boiler engineer, has a disorder that would have needed an aortic graft and life-long anticoagulation therapy. He wasn’t a fan of the impact this would have on his quality (and length) of life, and thought “I'm an engineer, I'm in R&D, this is just a plumbing problem.”. With his engineering background and a multidisciplinary team of consisting of a cardiac surgeon, medical radiologist, and a software developer (for CAD), they developed a medical device that would be custom designed for each patient, and could be installed without a bypass machine, total body cooling, or anticoagulation therapy. You can watch his TED Talk here.
The last example is the Wade-Dahl-Till valve which was developed by hydraulic engineer Stanley Wade, author Roald Dahl (yes, that one), and neurosurgeon Kenneth Till. The story is that Roald Dahl’s 4-month-old son was involved in a terrible car accident. The internal injuries caused fluid build-up that created pressure on the brain and could only be alleviated by installing an internal drainage tube (a shunt). But the tube kept becoming blocked. Dahl knew that Wade specialised in making hydraulics pumps for toys which never blocked, and together with paediatric neurosurgeon Till as a consultant, they developed a new shunt which was used on almost 3,000 children.
This week’s STEAM Powered is with Dr Marsha Tufft, engineer, author, speaker, and problem-solver. In our conversation, we talk about Marsha's engineering journey, Putney's World, and underwater hockey.
Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading; or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Introduction is About You by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick - A fascinating look at the way we approach methods of interpretation. Oversimplified, paranoid reading makes the assumption that something is problematic, reparative reading is a bit more optimistic. It’s not a light read, but it’s a little food for thought about how we consume media and striking a balance between viewing something through a critical lens and allowing yourself to enjoy it for what it is and be surprised.
The Myth of the Anti-Science Middle Ages - How science and mathematics were viewed in the middle ages, and it wasn’t all considered heresy.
Idiomatic Etymology of “What’s that got to do with the …?” - I have a tendency to say “What’s that got to do with the price of fish on Tuesday?” when I question the relevance of something being said. I no longer recall where I got this from, and decided to look up the origins of the expression. ~The more you know~
Potential link between girls who play sport and pursue STEM uncovered - A survey conducted by I Wish, an initiative for supporting girls in STEM, found that girls who played sport were more likely to express a desire to pursure a career in STEM. Why? Not sure, but could be something worth investigating.
Amusingly, I don’t consider myself terribly sporty, so my first thought when I saw this was that I was an outlier, and then I remembered that I played interschool field hockey, volleyball, and chess in high school. I wondered if I thought that because I’m not very sporty now, but honestly, I probably would still have said I wasn’t very sporty then as well. Perhaps it’s because I felt I was ‘okay’ at sports and not ‘great’ at sports and interschool isn’t exactly playing at the state or regional levels. Bit more reflection needed there, I think.
You can read I Wish’s full survey report for 2020 here.
HyperAudio - This is a neat library to add interactive transcripts to a website. You can see a demo of it here. When video or audio plays, you can follow along with the transcript as it highlights what is currently being said, and you can navigate the media by clicking on the transcript. I also just realised that TED Talks have something similar implemented in their transcripts, which you can see on the transcript tab of the Tal Golesworthy video I linked earlier.
Thanks for reading, and see you in a couple of weeks!