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Manufacturing Marvels

New course explores intersection of art and manufacturing

Northwestern students participate in an Iron Pour.Northwestern students participate in an Iron Pour.
Northwestern students participate in an Iron Pour.Northwestern students participate in an Iron Pour.
Northwestern students participate in an Iron Pour.Northwestern students participate in an Iron Pour.
Northwestern students participate in an Iron Pour.Northwestern students participate in an Iron Pour.
Northwestern students participate in an Iron Pour.Northwestern students participate in an Iron Pour.

With a 3,000-degree furnace melting iron before them, 10 Northwestern students participated in a centuries-old manufacturing process.

Temporarily transforming a campus parking lot into an industrial scene, the June 1 "Iron Pour" event concluded a new course titled Leonardo, Geometry, and the Art of Manufacturing. The course was offered by the Segal Design Institute.

Taught by Matthew Cummins and David Gatchell, the class encouraged students to understand the historical, artistic, and theoretical underpinnings of everyday forms and processes, or as Cummins puts it, "To honor the makers who have come before us and those we are trying to be."

Bringing passion to manufacturing

After an opening exploration of Leonardo da Vinci's geometric studies, an effort designed to spark students’ recognition of space and assembly, students later examined the artistic and industrial processes that most intrigued them.

Leveraging Chicago's deep and diverse manufacturing base, students toured local manufacturing spots and conducted "curiosity conversations" with artists, manufacturers, professional designers, and technologists involved with everything from glassmaking to craft brewing. A number of students also attended the RAPID Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, to discover the latest in advanced additive manufacturing.

Those efforts all culminated at the Iron Pour where students formed sculptural objects by using their own self-created molds, some birthed on a 3D printer and others crafted by ramming sand.

"One of the beautiful and unique things about this course was that it allowed students a hands-on opportunity to connect their interests and passions to geometry and manufacturing itself and to fully realize their designs," said Gatchell, director of Northwestern's Manufacturing and Design Engineering (MaDE) program.

Driving Wonder

Excited to take the course given its exploratory and artistic nature, fourth-year MaDE student SueSan Chen said the class proved a rich, engaging study of art, manufacturing, and engineering history.

"We learned so much about how ancient art and engineering discoveries were based on simple geometric principles and patterns," said Chen, also a first-year student in Northwestern's Engineering Design Innovation (EDI) program.

Junior Gavin Brehm, a triple major in cognitive sciences, music performance, and product design, meanwhile, relished the opportunity to see the manufacturing process transpire firsthand.

"The Iron Pour was an awesome opportunity to get up close with the materials and processes we discuss in manufacture courses in the support of creating unique designed objects that exercise our design skills," Brehm said.

From embracing the creativity and innovation that fueled da Vinci's work to examining modern manufacturing and crafting their own sculptural objects, Gatchell and Cummins hoped the first-time course inspired and empowered students.

"We certainly hope this class makes the students more curious and confident in their exploration of how things are made," Gatchell said.

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