EastBay Today

Posted June 5, 2017

Where Science and Art Collide

Graduate multimedia exhibition puts technology on display June 8

Master of Arts Multimedia project "Symmetrical Chaos" debuted at the San Mateo Makerfaire to an audience of 150,000. Since then, the team has been fielding requests for their project to be displayed at museums throughout the Bay Area.
John Howell

Have you ever seen a six-foot decahedron that projects mind-bending images from each of its 12 sides? Are you ready to experience the future of virtual reality? Or are you interested in interactive apps that could transform hands-on learning?

It will all be on display at Cal State East Bay’s Master of Arts Multimedia Exhibition June 8, where science, art and technology are about to collide.

Featuring projects from the Class of 2017 graduates, this year’s annual event includes three exhibits by six students, ranging from a poetic exploration of Platonic solids to a game at the frontier of Oculus Rift technology. Over the past year, the master’s students have been pushed to research and innovate how they can use art and multimedia tools to break boundaries between academic disciplines, while beta-testing their ideas outside the university.

“They’re all really different projects and they’re all really interesting,” said Ian Pollock, graduate and undergraduate coordinator of multimedia studies.

The exhibition will include:

The contrast between nature and beauty and chaos and order is part of the questioning "Symmetrical Chaos" hopes to elicit from viewers.
John Howell

Symmetrical Chaos: Constructed by partners Cliff Ingham and Guoyu Liu, “Symmetrical Chaos” features a series of Platonic solid structures of varying sizes, with the showpiece being a six-foot wooden dodecahedron video system that plays a curated, thought-provoking selection of images framed by neon lights. The system also comes with capabilities such as live streaming and feedback, and a selfie camera. “We’re trying to find that connection between art and technology, and explore the relationship between math and nature and beauty and chaos,” said Ingham, a multimedia high school teacher in Newark.

In addition to its Cal State East Bay debut, “Symmetrical Chaos” was previewed to a crowd of 150,000 at the San Mateo Makerfaire and is set to be on display at the California Academy of Sciences in September. According to Pollock, the curiosity surrounding “Symmetrical Chaos” is part of its appeal: “They’re these really kind of magical objects filled with science and math content,” Pollock said. “I think the intent is to have these sculptural objects that create a sense of wonderment — they’re not didactic objects, they don’t explain anything. They ask more questions than they explain.”

"Project This Way" has been tested at virtual reality meetups throughout the Bay Area over the past year.
courtesy of melissa merencillo

Project This Way: Developed using virtual reality front-running brand Oculus Rift, graduate students Melissa Merencillo, James Baird and Clare Huang have created a puzzle game that explores how virtual reality headsets that are typically very expensive can be used by multiple players — groups of friends or within a single home. “The development of these types of games is sort of the prize that’s being chased within the industry,” Pollock said.

Merencillo, Baird and Huang’s puzzle game involves one player wearing the headset while others work through software on a computer screen and feed their partner the information he or she needs to progress in the game. “We hope that, through our research, we’ve [identified] what areas of VR development designers need to look at to make an engaging experience between the two worlds, and we’ve come down to the VR environment layout, universal instructions and giving the real-world person more audio and visual input,” said Merencillo, who currently manages Cal State East Bay’s green screen studio and radio room in the Department of Communication. “Project This Way” was presented at the prestigious Stanford symposium on virtual reality and at the annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. “They’ve created quite a buzz,” Pollock said. “[Melissa] is becoming this VR evangelist and also kind of a go-to person, to the point that people are developing specialized hardware and asking her to demo it at all the meetups she attends. They’re becoming influencers.”

Sample bacteria cultures from APPathogenic, which was beta-tested by Cal State East Bay students and Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Nazzy Pakpour, and will soon go live on Google Play.
madlen bouthillier

APPathogenic: A solo project produced by student Madlen Bouthillier (B.A. ’15, Art) in partnership with Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Nazzy Pakpour, APPathogenic is a manual of high-resolution images of bacterial cultures grown at Cal State East Bay. “This project interested me because when I took biology at a local community college, I found the text really small and difficult to work with,” said Bouthillier, who speaks English as a second language. “And there were very few and very small pictures of what we were learning to help me.” 

For APPathogenic, Bouthillier first photograhed the bacterial cultures, and with input from Pakpour, built an app that functions as an interactive virtual laboratory. The app mimics testing and study methods in the online environment, enabling students to learn about pathogens faster and more efficiently. “One of the limitations of lab work is that when you go home to study, you can’t visually go back to the work you did,” Pakpour said. “This gives students a visual way to study that’s different from a textbook or revisiting your notes or listening to a lecture again. And it’s always with you on your phone, so you can study for five minutes here, five minutes while you’re waiting for the bus and so on.”

The project, which has been beta-tested on campus and will soon be available via Google Play, is a particular win for Pollock. “It’s what I’ve really been wanting to try to do for the past two years; the multimedia program started as an interdisciplinary degree, so I want to reach out across disciplines on campus,” he said. “Modern science communication is a really important field and it’s not being addressed in a lot of ways.” In addition to hopefully using the app with students soon, Pakpour says she’s already included the bacteria culture images in her hard-copy lab manual to supplement her medical and microbiology classes.

The Master of Arts Multimedia Exhibition takes place June 8, 6-9 p.m. in the University Gallery in the Arts & Education Building on Cal State East Bay’s Hayward campus. The event is free and open to the public. Alumnus Damon Packwood (M.A. ’14, Multimedia), co-founder of local nonprofit Gameheads, will speak, along with other VIP guests, followed by presentations from the graduate students and an open reception with refreshments. Advance registration for the event is appreciated. The University Gallery will also be open to view the exhibits Saturday, June 9, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.