A unique collaboration merges art and engineering

A joint degree program at two Universities in North Carolina allows students to merge arts and engineering to create innovative products.


A joint-degree program at two universities in North Carolina allows students to merge arts and engineering to create innovative products.

We go inside the studio for a look.

You're looking at a cutting-edge way to train the next generation of engineers... in the art studio.

We'll see how an engineer and how an art student kind of designs that separately, so it's kind of an interesting project.

Junior Travers Thurman is part of a new collaboration at the University of North Carolina Asheville.

In it, art and engineering students work together to design products.

This aluminum prosthetic is the result.

This part is gonna be strapped to the arm like so, and then this part will attach from the front, about right here.

And it can hold about any tool.

I came up with a writing device to help either people with arthritis or possibly arthrogryposis so that, if you can't articulate your fingers well, then you can still be able to write.

And there's good reason to blend art and engineering.

Just listen to Fiona Popp describe her design.

This is just where your hand sits when you're writing, so it could've just been anything, like just an oval or something, but we wanted to make it something that was interesting to look at.

And then this part is the part that I fabricated separately.

It's just made out of PVC pipe and a bolt.

So the idea -- what I'm gonna end up doing is gluing it onto here so that you can put the pen inside and then tighten so that the pen stays still.

And then, with this attached, you'll be able to move this around, and it'll be like you're writing.

And so what the art students bring to the table is they bring an understanding of art and design concepts.

What the engineering students bring to the table may be a little bit different way of looking at something and how it might work, how it might function, how it might be made.

And what they gain together when they're in assistance together, they gain an understanding of both of those things, working side by side, collaboratively.

They also gain an understanding of each other's perspective, which they have to have when they enter the job market.

[ Machinery whirring ]

Technology, especially 3-D printing, makes this collaboration possible.

Intricate objects that can only be designed on a computer can then be 3-D printed, and that printing can be used as a mold for casting.

It makes it so that you can modify the design more easily.

You can add to it, take away from it, and if you are doing this by hand, you would have to create a mold and then pour your wax into the mold.

And if there's something different about that, you have to redo your entire mold if there's something you want to change or something that's not quite right.

But with the 3-D printing, you can just tweak it in the program, in your model on the computer.

It's much more easy to modify, and then you just hit 'go,' and it prints it.

The collaboration between art and engineering is part of a joint-degree program between UNC Asheville and North Carolina State University.

It focuses on mechatronics.

And just what is mechatronics?

It's a blend of three disciplines of engineering -- computer, mechanical, and electrical.

And the purpose is to train people to design automated devices in their entirety -- the whole system.


[ Indistinct conversations ]

There's a world of difference between 3-D printing and mold pouring, but faculty members say the program is a reflection of the changing workplace.

It's not enough to simply know a process or a technique.

Workers need to understand each discipline and be able to collaborate and work across disciplines.

Do it hard.

Harder, harder!

The program also reflects what engineers call the 'intrinsic need for beauty.'

The most sought-after objects, whether consumer products or buildings, are not only functional -- they are also attractive.

My mother has arthrogryposis in her joints.

They're contracted together in a way that she cannot articulate her hands very well.

I just remember growing up and watching that struggle.

And so I think this will enable her to write easier.


Technology like is used in engineering is changing our world, and if we don't learn to integrate our personal creativity, our love for learning, and our use of technology, we're lost.

So I think not only do we belong, but we are an important addition.