An Event Review by Sabith Khan (PGG) – February 27, 2014 speakers  Drs. Ben Knapp, Ivica Icu Bukvic, Liesl Baum and Aki Ishida.

In an interview for WUVT FM’s Talk at the Table radio show and remarks at the historic Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg, Drs. Ben Knapp, Ivica Icu Bukvic, Liesl Baum and Aki Ishida, from the Institute for Creativity, Arts and Technology (ICAT), spoke about their work and the interesting possibilities technology offers to bridge science, arts and learning. The project group members highlighted their collaborative work, the curiosity they each share and the new knowledge that can arise from the combination of their perspectives and capacities.

The work at ICAT is a culmination of years of planning and integration of the various streams of knowledge that exist at Virginia Tech—engineering, music, computer science, acoustic sciences and visual arts. Each of the five ICAT studios—IDEA, IMAGE, IMPACT, IMPLEMENT and INTERACT—works in separate, but related areas to fulfill the Institute’s mission. With a ‘transdisciplinary’ approach to knowledge integration and a truly global vision, ICAT is poised to chart a new path in educating future leaders. They define ‘transdisciplinary’ inquiry as occurring when scholars from different disciplines and areas of knowledge together create new understanding and knowledge that could not otherwise have arisen. According to the ICAT website (please see: for the quotations below), the five studios carry out the Institute’s mandate in various ways:

  • IDEA: Exploring transdisciplinary learning environments that emphasize the value of collaboration and foster students’ critical and creative thinking by offering them time, space, and permission … to think and do. The ICAT website states, “The Integrated Design + Education + Arts Studio (IDEA Studio) is dedicated to promoting the development of critical and creative thinking skills in learners of all ages. To that end, our research explores collaborative learning environments that emphasize the importance of the connections between and among disciplines.”
  • IMAGE: Revealing science through the arts and forging frontiers of computation and interaction for entertainment, training, and learning. One of the interesting projects ongoing in this studio is the effort to create a 3-dimensional model of Blacksburg that could be useful for tourism, town planning and related purposes.
  • IMPACT: Understanding the continuum between the body, computation and imagination. The studio seeks “ to seamlessly integrate artistic creativity into everyday life and explore its impact on society’s overall quality of life.”
  • IMPLEMENT: Incorporating new materials, objects, and methods for creativity.
  • INTERACT: Stimulating local innovation and cultural awareness in Southwest Virginia and beyond.

Whether assisting middle school students as they create projects and enhancing their understanding of science and the arts thereby, or integrating architecture and engineering in a seamless mixing of disciplinary knowledge to address complex problems, the three ICAT speakers are involved in many projects. Bukvic brings his music background and Baum has expertise in instructional design and teaching. Ishida is a successful architect while Knap comes with more than two decades of experience in areas ranging from sound engineering to human-technology interface design.

In his remarks at the Lyric, Knapp suggested that ICAT’s mission is “to forge a pathway between transdisciplinary research and artistic output, scientific and commercial discovery and education innovation.” Using the example of searching for a book on the shelf in the library, Knapp contrasted that experience with seeking a title using the Google search engine, “A walk through a library and glancing at a bookshelf has an element of serendipity to it. It can help you find new books, ideas that you didn’t know existed, while Google search is very linear, goal oriented.” He argued that work groups at ICAT seek to be aware of similar opportunities for serendipity as they interact and to use them to their advantage.

While many major scientific discoveries have occurred by pure chance, including Archimedes’ ‘Eureka’ moment, most of these have been treated by the broader community as ‘objective scientific discoveries,’ giving them an aura of detached scientism that often does not accord with reality. Much as Knapp observed when describing a key aim for ICAT, one might argue that intuition, ideas and imagination played a larger role in many discoveries than is typically acknowledged. Another example of a serendipitous scientific finding was August Kekule’s identification of the Benzene molecule’s structure. He proposed a ring-like structure to describe the particle following a daydream about the question. Both of these examples suggest that science, intuition and creativity go hand-in-hand. ICAT is working to systematize the potential for realization of just such possibilities by bringing individuals with high knowledge from disparate disciplines together to imagine fresh ways of thinking.

According to Knapp, “Our work itself can be seen as a sign of success. Each project that is completed or is underway and brings about collaboration with others is a sign that we are doing something right.” Baum agreed and suggested the process of creating together is as important as the end result of such efforts. She observed that while measuring success and defining such outcomes exactly is difficult, the creative processes of teaching and sharing knowledge across ways of knowing is invaluable in itself. Collaboration ranked very high on this ICAT team’s list of priorities, as working with others provides opportunities not only to incorporate the best ideas from all involved in an initiative, but also to create new understandings and new ways of thinking. The three also agreed that while cooperating to develop projects can be challenging, it is often a lot of fun.

So, what drives the members of this ICAT team as they work together? “It may well be my curiosity. I would say that my Ph.D. should really be used to call me a ‘doctor of insatiable curiosity,’” Bukvic declared. Others on the team nodded vigorously in agreement during their Lyric Theater appearance.

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