STEM vs. humanities: a conversational guide

Picture this: you’re sitting in the Blue Room munching on a French toast muffin alone and someone asks to join your booth. You of course say yes, and in an effort to make sharing a table a little less awkward with a complete stranger, you look to the notes they are pulling out to make small talk about their classes. But alas! It’s all chemistry and calculus, and all you know is humanities. Disillusioned, you are forced to return to the uncomfortable silence and weird looks when you accidentally play footsie with your STEM stranger.

We all know and love and stress about Brown’s open curriculum, which gives us the freedom to take (or not take) whatever classes we choose. But the ability to focus on either STEM or humanities creates a gap in understanding our friends on the dark side (the dark side being up to interpretation).  Those awkward pauses in conversation when you have no idea how to comment on some class a friend is complaining about, or straight up don’t know what they are talking, are avoidable. We want to help you navigate those conversations with confidence, so study up.

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CS 15: First of all, I had no idea what CS stood for, and in the interest of saving others from the embarrassment of having to ask, it’s computer science. CS 15 in particular is essentially Intro to Computer Science, and the bane of existence for those students, so be sure to express extreme sympathy for people complaining about it.

Fishbowl: Where dreams go to die. It’s where are aforementioned CS students go to get help during TA hours, but are usually never heard from again. If your friend says they’re going there, send regular text updates assuring them they will some day see the real sun again.

Labs: It’s not your high school lab where things changed color and that was it. Chemistry labs in particular take up entire afternoons, and the pre-lab and lab reports that go with it, so don’t expect to see friends in lab much.

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Evolution through wind and PVC: Theo Jansen at RISD

Theo Jansen demonstrates his Strandbeests' "water feelers," which respond to moisture by rapidly firing leg pistons.

Theo Jansen demonstrates his Strandbeests’ “water feelers,” which respond to moisture by rapidly firing leg pistons to move in the opposite direction.

Theo Jansen, a Dutch polymath engineer-artist extraordinaire and the father of kinetic, wind-powered “Strandbeests,” came to RISD Friday night to deliver a lecture to a packed auditorium Although not a household name, Jansen is somewhat of a rock star at RISD.

His talk was presented by RISD/Brown STEAM, a group dedicated to promoting cross-disciplinary work between STEM fields and the arts. They demonstrated a five-foot tall cardboard Strandbeest of their own. Collaborative partners included RISD Government Relations and the RISD Programming Board.

Jansen is known for merging physics, engineering, biology, and art in large PVC kinetic animals that walk down the beaches in Holland on their own accord. These beasts move their legs with pneumatic PVC cylinders powered by compressed captured air. They have a purely mechanical nervous system that is able to respond to its environment by changing direction once it detects water or shifty terrain, by anchoring itself into the ground when it senses a storm coming, or by sending smaller “scouts” in front to test the surroundings.

In the talk, Jansen ruminated on the evolution of his career, imagination, and the beasts themselves.

Here are some of the most resonant thoughts Jansen shared Friday night, after the jump.

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Ra Ra Brunonia: Brown Engineering footage from the ’60s

Ever wanted to know what Brown looked like in the 1960s… in grainy color film? This is your opportunity. This particular video highlights the Engineering program at this fine Ivy League institution and does include some stunning aerial views of the campus. Definitely worth watching, despite the lack of dynamism (and movement) in the interview segment. Ra Ra Brunonia!

Tonight: Extreme Gingerbread House Making

Tis the season to be jolly: Thanksgiving has come and gone, Christmas music can be heard ringing through the halls, and it’s kind of snowing. And of course, geniuses are making gingerbread houses.

Today, November 30, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Barus and Holley, there will be a showdown of epic proportions. Behold, the Society for Women Engineers’ sixth annual Extreme Gingerbread House Competition. Along the lines of Top Chef, 22 teams (comprising of students and professors) will compete in the lifetime opportunity to be dubbed extreme gingerbread house making champions. What a title.

Each team will have one hour to build a gingerbread house. The house must fit fully on the tray. It must be larger than 216 cubic inches. It must be hollow. It should look nice, which is a given. And it should be designed to withstand earthquakes. Extreme.

Teams are allowed to bring any tools they want, but are advised to know how to use them before competing. Chemicals cannot be used this year, so I doubt there’ll be a flaming gingerbread house, but there’s bound to be some crazy contraptions. Once the hour is done, competitors will bring their houses to the panel of judges so they can be judged on their aesthetics. The second phase of judging is where the extreme part comes in. Each house will be put through an earthquake simulator, which will increase its intensity as time progresses. The last house standing is the winner.

So when you’re done with classes, have already eaten dinner, and it’s too early to go out, stop by Barus and Holley to check out the competition. There will be spilled icing, shattered graham crackers, and broken dreams. In the end, there can only be one victor. Who doesn’t love shit like this?

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