Elizabeth Benzmiller is a senior in the Science, Technology, and Society: Policy & Law Major. Throughout her time as a student at South Dakota Mines, she studied abroad in Limerick, Ireland, participated and held leadership roles in student organizations, and interned at the South Dakota Legislature and Raven Industries/Viaflex, Inc.
I was raised by two polar opposite parents. One chose a STEM career, worked in healthcare and laboratories, and was a very analytical and logical thinker. The other was a professional artist, singer, ballroom dance instructor, writer, and more. Growing up, I was able to see first hand how a STEM professional and an artist communicate and view the world very differently! One parent was a logical, straight to the point teacher who learned from a textbook and lectures, while the other was a creative, adventurous, empath who learned through experiences in their life.
I was taught the importance of the arts and STEM from a young age and told I didn’t need to choose between the fields. From a young age, I was playing instruments, singing in proper form, reading like a true bookworm, and looking for any opportunity to get crafty and creative. We would have Craft Thursdays and Field Trip Fridays, exploring museums and historical centers, trying new things, and seeing the world from a new perspective each week. At the same time, I was encouraged to ask questions, research the world around me, explore nature and get my hands dirty. I could build rockets, play with Legos, and learn how to use a microscope. I could travel the world and see new sights, cultures, and experience new things.
Every day, I was encouraged to explore my passions and be a lifelong learner. I didn’t have to choose between the Arts and STEM, and I was a more well-rounded individual because I could do both. I eventually decided to study in a STEM-field, but I never wanted to lose my grasp on influences that the arts had on me and I wanted to explore their interactions with the scientific community. This led me to my senior capstone project researching the influence and impact that arts-based instruction has on engineering and STEM undergraduate students.
How many unique creations can be made from one small piece of steel? The #150mmchallenge asks this question and answers it with a traveling exhibition of 150 metal objects, selected from over 400 pieces created by amateur and professional blacksmiths from around the world. This exhibition is on display at the Apex Gallery now.
The #150mmchallenge began in Hereford, UK, the home of the country’s only Artist Blacksmithing degree course at the Hereford College of Arts. There, tutor Ambrose Burne gave his students three weeks to create something interesting from a small piece of rectangular steel (150mm x 20 mm x 20 mm) without adding anything else. They posted their work to the course Instagram account (@herefordanvils) with the hashtag #150mmchallenge. This challenge caught other blacksmiths’ attention and led to an exhibition that toured Europe and that is now touring the US.
Matthew Whitehead is the Director of the Apex Gallery and a Lecturer who teaches Art and Art History classes in the Humanities department.
What’s your area of expertise? What do you primarily research and/or teach? And what drew you to this field?
I am an artist. I appropriate images and visual experiences from my surroundings and use them as inspiration for abstractions, mostly drawings, paintings, and collages. I work intuitively, paying close attention to composition and craft. My interest in the arts and the effect it has had on my life pushed me to pursue a career in education. I have taught painting, drawing, photography, illustration, design, graphic design, ceramics, stained glass, sculpture, art history, and foundational arts to students of all ages.
The arts have always been an important part of my life. I come from a family of artists and creatives. On my mother’s side, my grandfather was a renowned potter, painter, and art professor, and my grandmother was a social worker who now spends her time making traditional braided rugs and hand stitching quilts. My mother is a costume designer and art educator by trade but is also an actress and choir singer. My uncle is a potter, and my aunts are also artists of one kind or another. My grandmother on my Dad’s side was a trained aerial performer and painter. My dad was an actor, then a lawyer, and now he’s back to acting again. Given our family background, my siblings and I had no choice but to go into creative fields. My oldest brother is an actor, director, producer, filmmaker, and a professor of acting while my sister is an artist and landscape architect. Becoming an artist always felt like a natural fit.
I often teach a general education Humanities course (HUM 200, officially titled Connections: Humanities and Technology) on the topic of “Automatic Art.” As a Humanities class, we study representative elements from the entire range of arts and letters:
Those are representative examples of the coursework – but what is “Automatic Art”? The term doesn’t actually have much reality outside of my course. (Frustrated students will often turn to the surrealist technique of Automatic Writing, which does exist, but has little bearing on the collection of objects we study.) I like to tell students that “automatic art” is equivalent to “taking the human out of art,” but what does that actually mean?
In this third entry in our women in science and technology series, we focus on women working right now and on the impacts women can continue to have into the future. Two of today’s entries deal with weather and climate, attesting to the importance of climate to our present and future; two emphasize the relationship between science and the arts; and one illustrates the potential our students here at South Dakota Mines have to build on the accomplishments of past women in STEM and to shape the future.
Katherine Hayhoe – selected by Frank Van Nuys
Canadian-born Katherine Hayhoe is a well-known figure in climate activism circles, in large part because of her down-to-earth and engaging skills as a science communicator. After completing a B.S. in physics and astronomy at the University of Toronto, she switched to atmospheric science for her M.S. and Ph.D. at the University of Illinois-Champaign. She is currently a professor of Political Science at Texas Tech University, where she also co-directs that institution’s Climate Center. In addition to more than 125 peer-reviewed publications, Hayhoe has contributed to climate change studies by the National Academy of Sciences and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. As an evangelical Christian, Dr. Hayhoe has tried to bridge the gap between science and religion, particularly on climate change. Between 2016 and 2019, she hosted and produced a PBS web series, Global Weirding: Climate, Politics, and Religion.
Nathalie Miebach – selected by Matt Whitehead
Nathalie Miebach is an artist who uses weather data to create sculptures and collaborative musical scores. In her sculptures she uses basket weaving techniques, assigning different reed thickness, colors, and other objects to specific types of weather data, often focusing on extreme weather events such as hurricanes. As she says in her TED talk, “Weather is an amalgam of systems that is inherently invisible to most of us. So I use sculpture and music to make it, not just visible, but also tactile and audible.” Science is important, but if it cannot be communicated to others and understood – both intellectually and emotionally – its importance is limited. Miebach’s work helps communicate science to a broader audience and also shows that art and science can be understood together. Learn more about her work at her site, and check out her TED talk about her art using weather data below.
Laurie Spiegel – selected by Matthew Bumbach
Laurie Spiegel (b.1945) is a computer graphics specialist who has worked at Bell Laboratories since 1973. She is also a classical composer, guitarist, and lutist. Spiegel has found a way to combine her passions through the medium of electronic music both as a composer and as a programmer. Though she is a well-known composer and performer, she is most celebrated as the creator of the program Music Mouse.
Music Mouse is an “intelligent” algorithmic music composition software. With a built-in knowledge of chords use, scale conventions, and stylistic practices, the software allows the user to create real-time compositions by simply moving the mouse. Spiegel has used the software for several compositions, including Cavis muris (1986) and Sound Zones (1990).
Laurie Spiegel’s revolutionary work in the field of technology has led to countless innovations. Her influence as a composer and performer, however, has propelled electronic music forward at warp speed. While science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) profoundly impact our world, Laurie Spiegel’s ground-breaking career illustrates the potential impact of arts integration (STEAM).
Kiley Westergaard – selected by Karen Westergaard
Without even knowing it, we rely on scientists for information in our everyday lives. We take products, and our scientists behind the scenes, for granted. Behind the scenes, a female scientist tests and labels our products, ensures they are safe, quality products for us to use. She’s behind that nutrition label on your food products. At her lab, she tests for the protein, the fat, the fiber, all the items on your nutrition label. She then generates the product nutritional label so that you know what you are consuming. For instance, those trending seltzers right now? She’s testing each seltzer and creating the nutritional label for each. Ever wonder how long a certain food lasts before it becomes rancid? She’d know. She tests products for that too. That’s why you have the convenience of product expiration labeling. Worried about consuming products with GMOs? She’s got that too. She tests products like corn and soybeans to determine if they are genetically modified. She’s the reason you can find products labeled non-GMO. Worried about your food containing traces of chicken, beef, pork, alligator, kangaroo, goat, or rabbit? With meat speciation, she tests to ensure the product that reaches your home is safe to consume and is labeled accurately. Ever think about who’s behind the scenes? Scientists like you. Scientists like Kiley Westergaard, Chem ’19, SD Mines.
If you missed them, check out our first and second entries in this series, too!
The 2021 Student Art Show at South Dakota Mines has just concluded and, while it may have gotten less attention than previous years, it was a great success. With over 50 submissions, the works demonstrated the wide variety of talents our students have. The show consisted of paintings, drawings, crochet, photography, sculpture, beadwork, mixed media collage, blacksmithing, and musical performances.
Over the last month, people who were able to visit the APEX Gallery in person had the opportunity to vote for their favorite piece.
Here are the results of our Viewer’s Choice Awards:
Congratulations to our winners and a big thank you to all who participated! And if you weren’t able to visit the Apex Gallery to see the show, you can check it out in this walkthrough video!