We interviewed Jeff Lieberman at the 2012 Science and Engineering Festival. Jeff was host of the popular Discovery Channel show Time Warp. This show is only one example of his belief that mixing of the sciences and arts accelerates our technical advancements and knowledge.

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Todd
We're here at the USA science and engineering festival and I'm sitting with Jeff Lieberman artist and engineer. Jeff, were here at this giant festival there’s hundreds of thousands of students here. Why are you involved with the festival, why come?

Jeff
I guess mostly because I was invited to come here and I have the opportunity to interact with so many people and maybe because I have a slightly different slant than a lot of people where my work is usually about mixing the worlds of science, technology and engineering with the world of art and human perception is the link between those two for me usually.

Todd
That’s fascinating; I think you hit on something that’s really important in a theme that we've seen over the week. We tend to think of science and art when in reality there is this enormous of interplay between them and they’re really you need one for the other. Why do you focus on that, what have you seen on that, what might you teach the teenagers watching the video right now.

Jeff
Oh, there’s so much to say. You know you go back and you got a picture of Da Vinci on the wall behind you right, you go back 500 years science and art were exactly the same thing. There was no artificial division between the two they were both processes that informed each other and processes of explorations into the unknown. And I think we've kind of gotten so differentiated in all of our knowledge that we sometime we forget that it's about sitting in those unknown circumstances that leads into all the movements forward. You can't just assume that we have all the answers already, that's why things keep changing. So for me I was just really interested in science and really interested in art and kind of lived a double life for 25 years where I didn't know what I was going to do with my life and I was trying to decide every day what to spend time on and eventually through robotics and eventually through human perception started realizing like they knew a long time ago that these things were part of one larger organism.

Todd
I really like that a lot, I think one of the things you look at especially when you look at schools, you have your arts classes and your math and science and engineering classes, if you can call them that . And often times you end up creating these two separate groups. It feels like for engineers there is a fear of embracing that but you've done some amazing art installations, design installations, that incorporate science, incorporate engineering and incredibly complex but they deliver beauty. Tell us about some of the work that you’ve done, some of your favorite projects.

Jeff
First let me say, it’s valid to fear that kind of thing because in our community we don't foster it at all. So when I was growing up and doing science and art there was no one saying, no but you can do both of these things. There was a lot of fear for a lot of years on what am I really going to do and that's one of the hardest things I think right now. I you’re growing up with the scientific mindset but you want to do art there’s no one reminding us that that’s okay and that it's actually the beautiful part. And if you back up into all the scientific revolutions that have happened in the last hundred years especially it's not that it's because we’re getting a new piece of data that points us to new paradigm. Because someone's looking at the same stuff and realizing that we're looking at it in the wrong way and that’s a creative process. People like five Einstein talked about this all the time, it was not their rational mind that was the dominant things that led to the scientific revolutions, it was their intuitive mind that backed up and saw things in a new way. So when I went to the media Lab for grad school and started working on these art installations it was through a robotics and you can't build a robot without having technical knowledge of how to make it work. So there's always this kind of grounding process but the work that I was doing was primarily emotional and aesthetics. The idea was to try to give people are feeling like they were interacting with some true intelligence and we were doing this through very simple sensors and motors and artificial intelligence routines. And that started to form the link for me and I'm not saying anyone else should go that direction. Anyone else who's interested in some science or some artwork will find their own pathway towards how those things mix. But I think the trickiest thing is you have to sit there and simmer with both of them for really long time sometimes for years before you start realizing how they are interconnected and for me that was like almost 10 years of that before it started to fuse.

Todd
I'm sitting with Jeff Lieberman, Jeff is I would say an artistic engineer, can we say that an artist and engineer here at the USA science and engineering festival. You can hear more about what Jeff has to say as well as the other engineering and science celebrities here at the festival on engineering.com.

 



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