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Room of artists and students
Artists and students mingle during Artfully Engineered event hosted by Zachry Leadership Program students. | Image: Dharmesh Patel

People don’t often think of engineering and art as going hand-in-hand, but the Texas A&M University College of Engineering is changing that. The Zachry Engineering Education Complex features 10 works of art created by visionary artists who draw inspiration from science and engineering.

The art wasn’t intended to simply be enticing to look at, but rather serve as an educational tool for engineering students. John E. Hurtado, associate dean of academic affairs, is developing the first ever engineering art curriculum that will be based on the pieces in the building.

“When students see these art pieces, they make a connection to principles and concepts that they’ve studied in the classroom — principles and concepts like approximation, convergence limits, superposition, turbulent fluid flow, nonlinearity, data visualization and many others,” Hurtado said.

Last week, six of the 10 artists whose work is displayed in the Zachry building met with a group of students to discuss the many ways that art and engineering intersect. The Zachry Leadership Program hosted the event — Artfully Engineered — and invited select students from the College of Engineering, the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Architecture to attend. The small group discussion allowed the students to go from table to table and engage with the artists.

Inigo Manglano Ovalle, whose piece “Prototype for Stellar Interloper” hangs conspicuously from the third level of the building into the second-floor atrium, talked to students about his interest in the invisible forces that surround us. The work, which his son nicknamed “Silver Surfer,” depicts a parabola that mirrors itself, creating an ellipse. 

The most important part of my work is not the work. It’s you.

Inigio Manglano Ovalle

This sentiment seemed to be a common theme among the artists and students.  

Laurie Frick’s piece, “Transparent Data,” was directly inspired by the students and engineering departments at Texas A&M. The work is spread across a large portion of two walls on the third floor of the Zachry building and uses fused glass and mild steel to beautifully display data collected from university archives dating back to 1880 as well as written descriptions from Engineering Project Showcase projects over the last five years.

“The thing that I do is I grab a data set and I try to make data tell a story,” Frick said during the discussion. “The reason I chose showcase was to tell the story of how people work together.”

Frick said that all art has a story.

“It’s not just what you see but what’s going on behind them,” she said. “That’s what great about the art in this building.”

Chemical engineering student Danielle Yarbrough said that passing art in Zachry every day can provoke thought and draw your focus away from the stress of studying.

“It gives you a nice break from that, but at the same time it gives you a little something more,” she said.

Daniel Canogar’s piece, “Pulse,” collects real-time data from the building and conceptualizes it across five large metal ribbons lined with LED screens that appear to weave in and out of the wall on the second floor.

Canogar said his work as an artist isn’t very different from engineering, with the biggest difference between them being their function

“We’re all doing research, coming up with ideas, breaking boundaries and new thresholds, this for me is really important,” he said.  “Engineering has a purpose. The interesting thing about art is we don’t have that responsibility. We can take liberties and push the boundaries of things, because we don’t have to have that kind of functional aspect.”

He said art is, however, functional in a conceptual way.

“I don’t just think of art as something just beautiful and pretty,” he said. “It makes you think differently of the world. I always say that art is about paying attention.”

To view the art and learn more about the artists, visit the Art of the New Zachry website.