Opportunities and Obstacles Facing Scientists, Mathematicians, and Engineers Deeply Engaged in the Arts and Design

Coordinator: Carol Strohecker
Working Group Members: Roger Malina, Wendy Silk, Bruno Giorgini

Scientists and engineers in a range of disciplines engage the arts and design for both personal and professional reasons. This SEAD White Paper goes beyond avocations such as painting or playing a musical instrument, to examine opportunities and obstacles that scientists face when collaborating with artists in professional work.

Overlaps among sciences/engineering and arts/design are widely acknowledged in terms of the shared motivations of questioning and creativity and the shared approaches of exploration and invention. Yet, practitioners who attempt collaborative work across conventional disciplinary boundaries often encounter inhibitory mindsets and institutional structures. Struggles may also emerge within the established partnerships: artists may feel exploited, desiring to contribute more than just illustrations; scientists may disengage through fear that the artists do not have adequate grounding to achieve necessary topical depth.

Nevertheless, many scientists manage to produce effective work through broadly cross-cutting collaborations. In this White Paper we propose to interview a number of scientists, mathematicians, and research engineers who have engaged deeply with the arts and design, to elicit a contemporary snapshot of perceived obstacles and opportunities from scientists’ point of view.

We will include representatives of disciplines such as entomology, neuroscience, chiropterology, meteorology, computer science, and marine ecology. When the interviewees desire anonymity, we will maintain it. We will conduct some of the interviews through face-to-face meetings and some through email correspondence. We will address these questions among others:


What is your scientific discipline?

What is your art form?

Do you combine any other scientific or engineering perspectives in your work?

When did you start involving artists and/or designers in your work?

What motivated you to do so?

How would you characterize the nature of the artistic contributions?

To what extent do the results facilitate:

breakthroughs in your understanding of the scientific problem;

new formulations of older paradigms;

new experimental approaches;

communication of your work to colleagues;

communication of your work to the general public;

public engagement with your work;

education of your students and colleagues;

education of the general public;

the scientific inquiry itself.

Do you have favorite results from your collaborations with artists/designers?

What has worked best in these collaborations?

Why do you think it worked well?

What problems have emerged?

What caused these problems to emerge?

Are there ways in which your institution facilitated or hampered your collaboration?

What new opportunities exist to be promoted ?

Have any patents resulted from your art-oriented projects?

Which results of the collaborative involvements most fundamentally changed your thinking about your science?

How has the involvement influenced your working method or approach in any way?

Has the work led you to inquiry of any other scientific problems or topics?

Any other thoughts about your art/science work?


We expect that these questions will lead to back-and-forth exchanges in person and/or via email. We will sustain these dialogs in order to understand particulars of each collaborative situation. Finally, we will compare the responses and cull points leading to suggested actions for people seeking to develop art/science collaborations and for funders and policy-makers seeking to support them.

We invite interested scientists to contact us at:

Carol Strohecker <cs-at-centerfordesigninnovation.org>

Interview questions for broader-reaching scientists, research engineers, and mathematicians.

Broader-Reaching Scientists.pdf