New 'Lab at Harvard' Opens

The innovative exhibition

The Laboratory at Harvard Launch of Le Whif
Kathryn C. Ryan

Kicking a soccer ball often causes a throbbing toe and a loss of energy upon impact. But with Soccket—an idea developed by a team of Harvard undergraduates in Engineering Sciences 147, “Idea Translation: Effecting Change through the Arts and Sciences”—that energy can be stored in the soccer ball and later used for anything from powering a lamp to an electronic device.

“We all had experiences in the developing world and were concerned with the energy crisis, so we combined the two,” explained creator Julia C. Silverman ’10.

Soccket was just one of the exhibitions last night at the opening celebration of the Laboratory at Harvard, a new space in Northwest Labs conceived by Biomedical Engineering Professor David A. Edwards that hopes to inspire student ideas bridging the arts and the sciences.

“The heart of this lab is about students and how a forum like this can catalyze idea development in young minds,” said Edwards.

Besides Soccket, the grand opening on the basement level of the Northwest Laboratory Building featured student projects like Gigue, which converts your heartbeat into music, and Streetview, which allows you to experience public spaces by listening to the memories of strangers.

At a colloquium before the projects were unveiled, speakers said that art and science have intersected throughout history. The challenge now, they said, is to foster interdisciplinary creativity in education.

“There was a time in the past when art and science weren’t divided,” said Peter L. Galison, a professor of History of Science. “If you asked Da Vinci if his studies of turbulence were science or art he would have said, ‘You’re nuts!’ It made no sense to make that division then.”

Donald E. Ingber, the director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, recalled how a sculpture he saw in his art class led him to a realization about biological cells.

“The value of creativity lies in exercising your brain to get outside the perspective you’re trained in,” said Ingber.

According to Edwards, the Laboratory will focus on the Harvard campus during the first year by hosting work-in-progress exhibitions and monthly Idea Nights centered on student ideas. In the second and third year, the space will expand to the broader community by hosting events open to the public.

The Laboratory’s partners include the American Repertory Theater, the Wyss Institute, and the Harvard Initiative for Global Health.

Venkatesh “Venky” Narayanamurti, former dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and a member of The Laboratory’s Executive Committee, said he hopes the space will function as a “two-way street” that helps “translate ideas into action.”

“I applaud David’s efforts in making a robust experimental atmosphere that allows Harvard students to engage in innovative thinking and problem solving,” said current SEAS Dean Cherry A. Murray in an e-mailed statement.

“The notion of what he calls ‘artscience’ is, of course, a metaphor for what engineers do—whether it is tackling global poverty and energy or re-imagining everyday activities like eating a bar of chocolate. Creativity has no borders.”

—Staff writer Alissa M. D’Gama can be reached at adgama@fas.harvard.edu.

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