PAIRING PHYSICS AND POETRY At a class co-taught last fall by Lincoln Carr and Toni Lefton, students were asked to forge creative connections between art and science

�Engineering is an inherently creative profession. But at most engineering schools the density of the technical curriculum leaves little room for classes designed to foster creativity. However, this year students enrolled in the McBride Honors Program in Public Affairs had the opportunity to choose from two different courses that fall distinctly outside the box.

Both were team taught by faculty from very different backgrounds. In the fall, Lincoln Carr, physics professor and Humboldt Fellow, teamed up with Toni Lefton, a teaching professor in the Division of Liberal Arts and International Studies and an award-winning poet, to teach ‘From the Lab to the Page: Revolutions in Science, Literature and Society.’ The syllabus combined diverse readings in poetry, physics and philosophy with exercises that forged connections between the arts and sciences. Students embraced the class wholeheartedly; after only a few meetings, they were making connections independently in ways Lefton and Carr hadn’t envisioned.

Activities ranged from poetry slams to a panel on the Arab Spring with first-person accounts from revolution survivors, to live drone demonstrations. For a class on time, space and causality, students read and discussed the original text of Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity and Alan Lightman’s 2004 novel, ‘Einstein’s Dreams.’ At one point during the class, Carr went to the blackboard and started describing quantum bits. Lefton relates what happened next:

“The three physics students in the class were on the edge of their seats, but the rest of us were struggling to follow it. I went to the other blackboard and started taking his equations and translating them into verse. Lincoln, seeing what I was doing, switched from equations to using analogies to describe the scientific concepts. And then the students were at the boards writing equations and verse. The classroom was sizzling with a spontaneous creativity we never could have planned.”

Another class currently underway also aims to challenge students’ creativity. ‘Water, Energy and the West’ may sound like a fairly typical Mines class, but faculty members Sarah Hitt from LAIS and Kamini Singha from the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering are relying on literature to illuminate key issues. Along with analyzing technical and public policy, students are asked to write poems and draw landscapes, and their work has sometimes left their professors speechless.

“Kamini and I both agreed that a recent class where students presented their projects was one of our favorite moments as teachers,” Hitt says. “One student, who was also taking a circuits class, made a beautiful circuit board map of Colorado’s water resources. Another student made a film and another wrote poetry to accompany a display of his photography. One student actually created a superhero whose special power was the ability to translate complex water issues so that a layperson can understand them.”

Ultimately, both these classes required students and faculty to connect the humanities and sciences in unusual ways, challenging traditional perspectives and encouraging participants to step beyond their comfort zones. “The class transcended my engineering mindset and opened an entire world of creative expression,” says Aya Angstadt, a junior majoring in chemical and biological engineering and one of two student directors of the McBride Honors Program. “From writing vignettes about the quality of time to reading hieroglyphics to explore an ancient complexity paradigm, I came to see the power and utility of a simultaneous scientific and artistic approach to exploring the human condition.”