Making memories
















Prior to my days as the GTI for UNRVL_15, I spent many hours in the company of magnets, both large (600 MHz) and small (20 MHz). As a chemist, my preferred analytical tool is Nuclear Magnetic Spectroscopy (NMR), a technique which employs a magnetic field to characterize molecules, understand them spatially, and determine the pathways and pace that they transform into something else. Put more poetically NMR allows us to hear the “characteristic melody of atoms.” These words are Harald Cramér, member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, who addressed Felix Bloch and E. M. Purcell as they received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1952, proclaiming,

“Dr Bloch and Dr Purcell! You have opened the road to new insight into the micro-world of nuclear physics. Each atom is like a subtle and refined instrument, playing its own faint, magnetic melody, inaudible to human ears. By your methods, this music has been made perceptible, and the characteristic melody of an atom can be used as an identification signal. This is not only an achievement of high intellectual beauty – it also places an analytic method of the highest value in the hands of scientists.” (1)

The analogy Cramér makes to music is at once beautiful and accurate. The NMR experiment uses and records energy on the order of radio waves.(2) In addition, the magnet itself has to be tuned like an instrument to the right frequency to play this molecular music. I’ve clocked many hours lying under a magnet with my sleeves rolled up, carefully twisting the capacitor to get the frequency in just the right spot.(3)

Why take this walk down memory lane? In Rotterdam we wove, drove, and dreamed about memory and magnets with our hosts in the Digital Craft programme at the Willem de Kooning Academy. In an all-day core-memory workshop (see: we were able to make a working 32 bit magnetic core memory and create memories with some new friends.

Also, magnets were all the rage in the 1950s and 60s. But you don’t have to just take my word for it:


1. (retrieved 10/28/15)
2. (retrieved 10/28/15)
3. (retrieved 10/28/15)

Under Pressure








Week five and we are feeling a bit of pressure as our works takes on complexity: in electronics III, advanced Origami, and individual research. Then in the first half of class we discover from Paul Mirel that we can measure pressure. In working with digital inputs to build a circuit with a mechanical pressure sensor built in, we learn some basic truths for working with electronics:

1. Hook up inputs, run a test code
2. Hook up outputs, run a test code
3. Make a simple code
4. If it doesn’t work, go back to 1

Here these rules allow us to build and test a pressure device. Looked at another way, as we move forward in research, these rules inform our approach to working out a question or new design: run a test, see if it works, if not, try again. We can also draw from them to relieve pressure: discovery stems from experimentation. As the architect, designer, theorist, and inventor, Richard Buckminster Fuller asserted, “There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes.” Often times, it is in those unpredictable outcomes where the most interesting work is developed.

Here are a few more quotes from great thinkers to motivate us:
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”— Albert Einstein
“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.”—-James Joyce

And, speaking of discoveries, it is Nobel Prize week! Check out these great discoveries:

Motors and Flashing Lights












When we come to class we expect to do a bit of work, but in Session 4, we learn how to make our bits of wire and code do work for us. Work, as defined by physics, is the force that acts upon an object to cause its displacement. We see this in action, the movement of a flag of blue tape, when we wire up a circuit to run a motor that causes this action happen. In the process, Paul Mirel teaches us about signal devices and power devices and how to use a GND pin and a solderless breadboard to mediate between these devices. Just as we begin to master this, Paul wonders if we can jump to working with neopixels and program them to make light spin and pulse on command. “How many for the flashy lights?” Paul asks. Everyone in the class raises their hands and we are off to developing yet another new skill to work with.

Materials in conversation

IMG_0244 IMG_0252 IMG_0262 IMG_0267 IMG_0288 IMG_0291 IMG_0295 IMG_0304 IMG_0310 IMG_0315

About halfway through Session 3 of UNRVL_15, David Kandel, mathematician and Origami master, reflects, “parallel lines don’t have a lot of conversation.” We are in the process of folding paper, finding our way to a pattern that allows the paper to open and collapse with one simple action. It is at this moment that David pauses to explain that nothing interesting happens in Origami until lines begin to connect and come into dialog.

Hours earlier, we began learning about electronics and the Arduino platform with NASA engineer, Paul Mirel. In electronics, free electrons are also in dialog, moving from atom to atom in conductive materials, like metals, and becoming quiet when they meet an insulator, like glass. Electrons flow from the metal wires we twist together as we build a circuit, soldering them together with an amalgam of tin silver and copper (SnAgCu). Next, we add the conversation between our computers, Arduino, these wires, and an LED bulb. Paul exclaims, “Show me your blinky Arduino!” And with that, we learn to tell those electrons to turn the LED on and off, coding:

digitalWrite (13, HIGH)

delay (1000)

digitalWrite (13, Low)

delay (1000)

Invented for communication, paper, we learn from David, can be transformed using the basic building blocks: lines, points, angles, areas, intersections. Origami creates beautiful art objects and inspires engineers and scientists how to make new devices or understand biomolecular processes. How can we use these tools and concepts to new uses for materials: ones that breathe, connect, and, ultimately, communicate?


Recommended reading:

Deleuze, Gilles.The fold Leibniz and the Baroque. London: Continuum. 2006.

How to Unravel the Code

IMG_0148 IMG_0165 IMG_0170 IMG_0172 IMG_0203 IMG_0208 IMG_0219 IMG_0227 IMG_0229 IMG_0233It is session No. 2 and we are lucky to have visiting artist and founder of the Society for the Prevention of Unfinished Needlepoint (SPUN), Mary Smull, here to draw connections between the loom and binary code (0s and 1s) through the machine and the materials used on it. We learn how to program on the loom by strategic placement of threads in warp and the weft. Our code here consists of a razer (up) and a sinker (down), but we could easily substitute in 0s and 1s. A twill weave could be written as:






After we’ve learned how to plan out our code to program the loom, Annet interjects: “Can we do a little weaving?” And we sit down to embody the act of coding in the physical space.

Fun fact of the day: Punch cards were invented for the Jacquard Loom circa 1800! These cards would become our first data storage devices for our early computers.

How We Begin

This year’s International Collaborations class, i.e. UNRVL_15, begins with 25 eager students plus—plus two engaging professors—plus three mentors from the technological worlds of hacking, programming, and spacecraft building—plus two GTIs—plus one student who is not officially registered. We are introduced, hear about policies and schedules, learn about the Willem de Kooning Institute in Baltimore’s sister city of Rotterdam, and take a grand tour of the newly renovated digital fabrication studios within the iron arches of the old Station Building at MICA.

After a dinner break, the question is asked: how do we begin? How do we begin to do self-directed research driven by our own curiosity? What resources can we draw from? While exciting to have a chance to explore whatever we want, the task of coming up with an idea to pursue is, admittedly, daunting. We go around the table, each answering the question, “What do you want to know?” We learn that to do research, we must first ask a question—or a few!  Once we ask a question, we can look for resources by asking more questions: Who has done something similar before? How do they approach solving this problem? What tools do I need to learn to accomplish this task? How can I do this differently?

From here we begin: asking questions, learning new skills, and building with the resources UNRVL_15 provides us. Within this open space for creativity and technological innovation, we ask, expectedly, “What will we see next?”

How to Register

Registering for the class website is fairly simple. It is 2015. We should be getting good at this.  And you probably sign up for some web service every week. So this should be pretty painless. That said, there are a few details that we need for you to tend to when you register. Some of these details are important to make some fancy behind-the-scenes things play nice. We are trusting that you are able to follow these simple directions and can get this complete within a few days of the first class.

To begin the process, click the “Register” button in the top-left corner.



This will take you to a registration page. Please follow these guidelines when you fill out these fields:

  • Account Details
    • Username
      • Use the same username you have for your school login. That is typically your first initial and your last name.  You don’t need or anything like that.
    • Email Address
      • Use your school email address. 
      • You should use the same email address when you set up your Creative Process Journal
    • Password
      • Make a good password. Here are some tips, if you need it. Seriously, there are a lot of jerks out there who spend their time walking about the internet and trying the locks on every WordPress door they can find. Don’t let one of these guys hack your account and spam up our class site.
  • Profile Details (the fun stuff)
    • Name
      • Please use your real full (first and last) name.  That’s the purpose of this field, you know.
    • Class Role
      • Pick the option from the drop down menu that matches your role in this class. This should be obvious. If you choose a “Faculty” role, we will straight put you to work.
    • CPJ Link
      • Paste in the full link to your Creative Process Journal. This includes that “http://” bit typically in a URL.
      • What if I don’t have a CPJ yet? Just type in “TBD” and you can modify it later. (Explained below.)
    • Class Year
      • Again, drop down, obvious.
    • Major/Program
      • There is no drop down here, because we have so many different majors and Grad programs represented in this class.
      • Type in the name of your major/program. Type out the full name. Spell it correctly.
      • If you have a concentration, insert a comma and then add that in too.
    • Relevant Interests
      • List a few interests that you have that are related to this class, separated by a comma. These can be broad, hyper-focused, wild, or fascinatingly banal.  Short phrases are best.
      • These could be areas that you want to explore as part of your research, but no one is going to hold you to something you typed in the first week of class.
    • Relevant Experience
      • List a few skills or experiences  you have that may be relevant to the class, separated by a comma. What programs do you know? What craft skillz you got? Have you taken any related classes?
      • If you know how to do plumbing, don’t list that. Not because it isn’t relevant, you just should ever let anyone know you have that skill. Unless you want to be a plumber.



Okay, so after you submit the registration form you’ll need to go to your email and get the activation link.





Log in with the username and password you just created.


The last thing you need to do is set your profile photo. This photo is important to have a nice representative image for each person, so that we can all mtach names and projects to faces and people.

If you look in the top-right corner, you’ll see is says “Howdy” to you and has a spot for a profile photo. It is probably just a place-holder image at this point.  There are two exceptions to this:

  1. Your head is actually a flat white circle sitting atop of your gumdrop shoulders, thereby making this image an accurate representation of you.
  2. You have a Gravatar image of yourself already linked to your school email address.
    1. If that is the case and you are happy with that image, you needn’t change it.
    2. If you want to replace the Gravatar image,  just continue on with these steps with everybody else.

Click the link in the top-right corner, and choose “Edit My Profile” in the drop down.



On this page, you can make any adjustments to your profile, such as updating your CPJ link. Just remember to click “Save Changes” at the bottom of the page.

You’ll also see in the upper area of the page there is a link to “Change Profile Photo.” Click it!



You can drag and drop a file from your computer, or click “Select Your File” and navigate to the image. You cannot submit a link or drag directly from another web page; it must be uploaded from your computer.

If you are on a mobile device with a camera, you can take a photo, but don’t give us some horrible selfie. This isn’t Myspace for Chrissake; have a little self respect.



Once you’ve uploaded your image, you can zoom and crop it to look real nice.


Once you are all set, click “Crop Image.” Confirm everything is correct, then click “People” in the main menu bar up top to see how the rest of the world sees your profile.



Oh yeah. Looking good!

Notice that if you click on your image, it will take you to your CPJ. The same it true for all of your classmates. This is a great way to explore what everyone else is up to. Remember that reviewing and commenting on your classmates CPJs is a standing assignment.


Notice that if you click on your name it takes you back to your profile. If you click on one of your classmate’s names it will take you to her/his profile. It is a good way to get to know everyone in the class.


When looking at profiles, many of the fields are clickable and will take you to a list of classmate with the same entries. Its a nice way to find common interests. You can also send people messages and use the site a platform for exchange. Try it out!