Material Spectrum Lab

Syllabus – Currents SPRING 2014- PSAM 5600-D

AMT, Parsons, The New School for Design

MFA Design and Technology


Course Dates: Jan 29, 2014 – May 14, 2014

Meeting Times:  Wednesdays 7:00 pm – 9:40 pm

Location: 6 East 16th Street 1204A



Aisen Caro Chacin |

Post-Graduate Fellow, Full-Time Faculty | Parsons The New School for Design


Adjunct Faculty | Parsons The New School for Design


Course Description:

This class presents innovative material topics that are surging in the biology and material science community in an accessible way to non-scientists and artists. This course aims to generate work in the field of Physical Science & Tech/Art & Design through a transdisciplinary catalyst, materials. It aims to provide the students  with a well rounded understanding of materials from a hybrid Art|Sci perspective, engaging Humanities students in the fields of STEM by facilitating scientific research methods through artistic processes. This course provides a platform for the study of natural and artificial systems. Students will experiment in the field of materials with current accessible scientific practices gaining insight on the observable correlations in both design and engineering.

The content of these courses will be heavily influenced by the laboratory and the studio approach, where students can re-invent applications or techniques for materials, and ultimately generating qualitative contributions to the field. Students will survey the physical properties of nanomaterials, biomaterials, and synthetic materials, and measure their usability and potential design applications. They will pursue new skills in wetware, electronics and chemistry for digital and analog fabrication as they make, examine, and manipulate their own materials.


We will begin by exploring materials at the nanoscale by studying the methods that are utilized today for the visualization and manipulation of matter at the smallest side of the spectrum. Students will gain hands-on experience by designing electrical circuits on flexible surfaces utilizing silver nanoparticles. As the course progresses in scale we will experiment with biomaterials, and learn about the automated mechanisms by which nature operates, such as protein polymerization and how we can use this process to create our own bioplastics. We will also look at the chemical properties of matter by studying catalyst reactions in common construction materials such as plaster, and simultaneously learn techniques for casting and mold fabrication.

 Students will make their own materials; examine their composition and learn how to manipulate them. Throughout this class they will develop experimental research models influenced by laboratory/studio approaches. Students can re-invent material research by borrowing methodologies from craft and engineering, while creating new tools and building their own spectroscopes, microscopes, and biosensors. This course will focus on synthesizing materials processes to formulate new fabrication techniques for prototyping and lead design innovation by imagining and making the future visions of our material landscape.


The outcome of this course will result in documentation from labs and process of conceptual developments to be archived in a blog.  This will allow students to have full access to the blueprints of all the correlative workshops, reading materials, as well as to function as a platform to share learning goals and examples for each class session. Beyond the research analysis to further understand natural and synthetic materials, students will explore conceptual models which will critique, enhance, and innovate in the space of materials.

  • Engage with hands-on bio/nanotechnology labs, and gain a basic understanding of chemical and biological processes.

  • Acquire fabrication and prototyping skills, such as casting, thermoforming, and CNC machining, and 3D-printing.

  • Demonstrate critical thinking skills in search for the usability and potential applications of the technologies introduced in the course labs.

  • Establish their own models of pure and basic research, and develop new tools for conducting their experiments.

  • Engage with the Art|Sci community and participate in the proliferation of open-source STEAM learning.

  • Advance independent research and conceptual models to be executed as practical prototypes.

  • Learn the language and precedents of work in the fields of Nano/Bio technology and Design.

  • Learn to frame their designs to be propelled beyond the classroom, e.g. preparing material for Prix Ars Electronica and other design conferences.

  • Familiarize themselves with lab equipment and engineering procedures.

Social Impact:

Transdisciplinarity is an important part of education curriculums, students can benefit from alternative education methods that apply collaboration and short goal oriented learning outcomes. This course will utilize scientific research by providing hands-on, workshop learning opportunities, that will inform  independent experimentation.

Class Structure Overview:

Students will benefit from collaboration, the interchange and materialization of  ideas by engaging in hands-on, workshop opportunities, to ultimately excel in learning by making. As transdisciplinarity becomes an important part of education curriculums, mixing scientific and artistic learning methodologies, such as labs and studios, lead to a more complete understanding of theory and concept.


Introduction to the material, lab prep talk.

 2 HR. LABS:

Experimenting with a new language and techniques.

To be documented on the blog and presented the next day of class.

These reports will fuel the conversation for that week.


Think Tanks, Discussions, Critiques, Making.

Students will have 2 major projects due one for Midterm and one for Final review.



What have you learned in this lab?

Can you find an application? (Sketches)

Is your project an experiment/ research based exploration?

What is the conceptual statement/ hypothesis?



+ Blog entries: Documentation and Experience for every lab/workshop/project

Students will prepare a Midterm and Final projects to be presented to the class and guest critiques for review.



These quizzes are meant to be an introspective review for each student. They serve as reminders of the material, and do not count towards your grade. However; participating in sharing the solutions to some of the problems will be noted, and will be counted as extra credit.



Students will be graded upon the quality of work based on concept development, technical execution, and fabrication. Major projects are expected to be fully functional and completed integrated prototypes. The blog should be updated weekly, all projects must be documented, homework labs, midterms, and finals.

Participation: 25%

Blog: 20%

Innovation: 5%

Midterm: 25%

Final: 25%


Course Topics

Material Physics:

  • Material Properties

  • Mold Fabrication

  • Structure Design

  • Stress/Strain

  • Statics/Dynamics


Digital Fabrication:

  • Laser Cutting

  • Digital Modeling

  • 3D Printing



  • Circuitry Design

  • Chemical Etching

  • NanoInk Jet Flexible Circuits

  • Light Spectrum + Scale

  • Microfluidics



  • Mycelium

  • BioPlastics

  • Bacterial Landscapes


Guiding Questions e.g.:

What are the properties of the plastic sample?

How can we modify this bacteria to change color? Become bioluminescent?

Describe the process of making Casein plastic.

What strain of bacteria that makes Kombucha, and what is it’s byproduct?



Project I – Fabrication

Students will work individually or in groups to create a piece of artwork that includes components produced by at least one of the following digital and analog fabrication techniques:

  • Mold making

  • Laser-cutting

  • 3D-printing


Project II – Structure and Systems

Students will produce a final project that utilizes some of the techniques we have learned in class throughout the semester. This project is meant to have a conceptual concentration where students can explore a variety of material processes. This project will also include a short paper where the student can synthesize their creative process, experiments, and results with the aim to be published in the future.


Detailed Course Outline:

Week 1, 01/29/2014

Introductions & Syllabus Review

Week 2, 02/05/2014

Lecture: Mechanics of Materials

  • Compression vs. Tension (concrete, stone, metal, steel)

  • Young’s Modulus

 Lecture: Structural Design

  • Statics/Dynamics

  • Members in compression/tension, weight distribution

  • Critical regions of design (where/why things will likely break)

Assignment: Team compression/tension competition (2-week assignment) – build the strongest balsa wood structure, given certain design constraints. You can use intelligent tension with X amount of thread.


Week 3, 02/12/2014

Studio: Mold-Making & Laser-Cutting Overview

  • Design competition weights

  • Labs tour

Assignment: Finish assignment from Week 2. Get prepared for the competition!

Week 4, 02/19/2014

Compression/Tension Competition – time to break stuff!

Lecture: Intro to 3D-printing

  • Industry overview

  • Types of printers

  • Materials

  • Limitations: speed, quality, size

Assignment: Research topics for Project 1 and come to class next week prepared to discuss a project proposal.

Week 5, 02/26/2014

Lecture: Modeling for 3D-printing (Part 1)

  • Autodesk Maya – interface

  • Using the grid! (snap to point, snap to grid)

  • Polygons: Modeling a chair

Assignment: Model an object of your choice using polygons.


Week 6, 03/05/2014

Lecture: Modeling for 3D-printing (Part 2)

Assignment: Clean up model from Week 5 and 3D-print it in the ARC.


Week 7, 03/12/2014

Studio: 3D-modeling Q&A

Assignment: Finish Project I, and prepare for midterm presentations

Week 8, 03/19/2014

Project I – Presentations



Week 9 03/25/2014 SPRING BREAK [no class]


Week 10, 04/02/2014

Lecture: Electricity and Conductive Materials

Lab: Measuring Resistance with sound, 555 timer, Breadboarding Circuitry Design Introduction.

Assignment: Begin familiarizing yourself with Fritzing, and turning the schematics file into a PCB design file.

Week 11, 04/09/2014

Lecture: Nanomaterials and Microfluidics: The Future of Flexible Electronics

Lab: Circuit Review, Nanoparticle InkJet Flexible Circuit Printing, Component Placement.


Assignment: Finish Flexible Circuits


Week 12, 04/16/2014

Lecture: BioMaterials: Life and Structure

  • Bioplastics

  • Polymers

Lab: Brainstorming and Bodystorming ideas for Biomaterials

Assignment: Prototype and sketch 3 ideas for your Structure and Systems project.


Week 13, 04/23/2014

Lecture: BioMaterials: Programmable Matter

  • Bacteria

  • Mycelium

Assignment: Prototype Phase II for Structure and Systems project.


Week 14, 04/30/2014

Studio: Review Presentation and Discussion of Phase II Prototypes.

Week 15, 05/07/2014

Studio: Students work on their Final Project

Week 16, 05/14/2014

Project II – Presentations



University Resources:

The university provides many resources to help students achieve academic and artistic excellence. These resources include:

In keeping with the university’s policy of providing equal access for students with disabilities, any student with a disability who needs academic accommodations is welcome to meet with me privately. All conversations will be kept confidential. Students requesting any accommodations will also need to contact Student Disability Service (SDS). SDS will conduct an intake and, if appropriate, the Director will provide an academic accommodation notification letter for you to bring to me. At that point, I will review the letter with you and discuss these accommodations in relation to this course.


University, Divisional/School, and Program Policies:

 Academic Honesty and Integrity

Compromising your academic integrity may lead to serious consequences, including (but not limited to) one or more of the following: failure of the assignment, failure of the course, academic warning, disciplinary probation, suspension from the university, or dismissal from the university.


University Policy

The New School views “academic honesty and integrity” as the duty of every member of an academic community to claim authorship for his or her own work and only for that work, and to recognize the contributions of others accurately and completely. This obligation is fundamental to the integrity of intellectual debate, and creative and academic pursuits. Academic honesty and integrity includes accurate use of quotations, as well as appropriate and explicit citation of sources in instances of paraphrasing and describing ideas, or reporting on research findings or any aspect of the work of others (including that of faculty members and other students). Academic dishonesty results from infractions of this “accurate use”. The standards of academic honesty and integrity, and citation of sources, apply to all forms of academic work, including submissions of drafts of final papers or projects. All members of the University community are expected to conduct themselves in accord with the standards of academic honesty and integrity.

 Students are responsible for understanding the University’s policy on academic honesty and integrity and must make use of proper citations of sources for writing papers, creating, presenting, and performing their work, taking examinations, and doing research. It is the responsibility of students to learn the procedures specific to their discipline for correctly and appropriately differentiating their own work from that of others. Individual divisions/programs may require their students to sign an Academic Integrity Statement declaring that they understand and agree to comply with this policy.

The New School recognizes that the different nature of work across the schools of the University may require different procedures for citing sources and referring to the work of others. Particular academic procedures, however, are based in universal principles valid in all schools of The New School and institutions of higher education in general. This policy is not intended to interfere with the exercise of academic freedom and artistic expression.

 Academic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to:

  • Cheating on examinations, either by copying another student’s work or by utilizing unauthorized materials.

  • Using work of others as one’s own original work and submitting such work to the university or to scholarly journals, magazines, or similar publications.

  • Submission of another students’ work obtained by theft or purchase as one’s own original work.

  • Submission of work downloaded from paid or unpaid sources on the internet as one’s own original work, or including the information in a submitted work without proper citation.

  • Submitting the same work for more than one course without the knowledge and explicit approval of all of the faculty members involved.

  • Destruction or defacement of the work of others.

  • Aiding or abetting any act of academic dishonesty.

  • Any attempt to gain academic advantage by presenting misleading information, making deceptive statements or falsifying documents, including documents related to internships.

  • Engaging in other forms of academic misconduct that violate principles of integrity.

(This is an abridged version of the policy. For the full policy text, which includes adjudication procedures, visit: )

Guidelines for Studio Assignments

Work from other visual sources may be imitated or incorporated into studio work if the fact of imitation or incorporation and the identity of the original source are properly acknowledged. There must be no intent to deceive; the work must make clear that it emulates or comments on the source as a source. Referencing a style or concept in otherwise original work does not constitute plagiarism. The originality of studio work that presents itself as “in the manner of” or as playing with “variations on” a particular source should be evaluated by the individual faculty member in the context of a critique.

Incorporating ready-made materials into studio work as in a collage, synthesized photograph or paste-up is not plagiarism in the educational context. In the commercial world, however, such appropriation is prohibited by copyright laws and may result in legal consequences.


Open Source Policy

You are encouraged to work in groups, but unless otherwise specified  you must turn in your own work. Copying/pasting and reusing code is a key part of the programming process,

especially while learning. You often learn best by modifying working examples rather than

starting from scratch. We stand on the shoulders of giants;  that’s the essence of the opensource philosophy. However, there is a very important caveat: any code you borrow and/or modify must be labeled as such. That is, you must include, in your work, the name of the author, the source URL, and you must make clear which lines of code are not yours. If you fail to do this, you will fail the class. It is very, very easy to get this right, though, so if you take a moment’s time to label your work correctly, you will not have a problem. Just be diligent and honest.


Course Policies:


Students are responsible for all assignments, even if they are absent. Late papers, failure to complete the readings assigned for class discussion, and lack of preparedness for in-class discussions and presentations will jeopardize your successful completion of this course.



Class participation is an essential part of class and includes: keeping up with reading, contributing meaningfully to class discussions, active participation in group work, and coming to class regularly, prepared and on time.



In rare instances, I may be delayed arriving to class. If I have not arrived by the time class is scheduled to start, you must wait a minimum of thirty minutes for my arrival. In the event that I will miss class entirely, a sign will be posted at the classroom indicating your assignment for the next class meeting.


Additional Course Information:

Student Course Ratings

During the last two weeks of the semester, students are asked to provide feedback for each of their courses through an online survey and cannot view grades until providing feedback or officially declining to do so. Instructors rely on course rating surveys for feedback on the course and teaching methods, so they can understand what aspects of the class are most successful in teaching students, and what aspects might be improved or changed in future. Without this information, it can be difficult for an instructor to reflect upon and improve teaching methods and course design. In addition, program/department chairs and other administrators review course surveys.


Attendance & Grading Policy:

Parsons’ attendance policy was developed to encourage students’ success in all aspects of their academic programs.  Parsons promotes high levels of attendance because full  participation is essential to the successful completion of coursework, and enhances the quality of the educational experience for all, particularly in courses where group work is integral.  Students, therefore, are expected to attend classes regularly and promptly and in compliance with the standards stated in course syllabi. Faculty members may fail any student who is absent for a significant portion of class time.  A significant portion of class time is defined as three absences for classes that meet once per week and four absences for classes that meet two or more times per week.  During intensive summer sessions a significant portion of class time is defined as two absences.  Lateness or early departure from class may also translate into one full absence. Faculty will make attendance standards clear, in writing, at the beginning of the semester.  Students may be asked to withdraw from a course if their habitual absenteeism or tardiness has a negative impact on the class environment. Students who must miss a class session should notify his or her instructor and arrange to make up any missed work as soon as possible.  Students who anticipate a potentially lengthy absence must immediately inform the program Chair or Director and must explain the extenuating circumstances in writing.  Students must receive advance approval for the absence in order to ensure successful completion of the course.  A Leave of Absence or Withdrawal from Program will be recommended if the absence would compromise the student’s ability to meet course requirements and standards.



Classes meeting 2 time per week: 4 absences are grounds for failure.



Two (2) tardies will be counted as one absence.

5 minutes is considered tardy.

The following may be counted as tardy:

· Coming to class without the required materials

· Sleeping in class

· Being asked to leave class because of disruptive behavior.

· Doing other course work in class.


Academic Warning

Students who do not complete and submit assignments on time and to a satisfactory standard will fail this class. It is a student’s responsibility to obtain missed assignment sheets from other classmates and make-up the work in time for the next class.

Course Expectations

In order to receive a grade for this course, students must actively participate in classroom discussions and critiques, and complete all the assigned projects, including mid-term & final projects.


Mid-semester Evaluations:

Mid-semester evaluations are issued to help students improve performance and make

progress. Although a grade may not be given, the comments will indicate your standing on a below – average – above scale.


Grade Descriptions (from SDS Guidelines):

A 4.0  Work of exceptional quality. 95-100%

These are projects that go above and beyond the expectations and requirements described in the assignment. They demonstrate substantial effort and achievement in the areas of critical thinking, technique and presentation.


A- 3.7  Work of very high quality.  90-94%


B+ 3.3  Work of high quality, higher than average abilities. 86-89%


B 3.0  Very good work that satisfies goals of course. 83-85%


The “B” student offers a clear and convincing structure to a visual endeavor that is more complex and unique than a project at the average level. The creator’s point of view and point of the project are merged successfully and organized fairly consistently throughout the project. Although minor structural problems may be present in the assignment, they do not hinder the overall outcome.


B-  2.7   Good work. 80-82%


C+ 2.3  Above Average work, Average understanding of course material. 76-79%


C 2.0  Average  work;  passable. 73 -75%


The student demonstrates an engagement with the assignment. The project will show that the creator can identify and work with key ideas and examples found in reference material. Typical of a “C” project is that the original problem or assignment once approached, does not develop further. Projects may also have organizational, technical weaknesses.


C- 1.7 Passing work but below good academic standing.  70-72%


D 1.0  Below average work; does not fully understand the concepts of the course. 60-70%


Although this is passable work, the project only answers the minimum requirements of the assignment. The projects shows very little effort, is incomplete, late or incorrect in its approach. The outcome shows a lack of full understanding and commitment on the part of the creator.


F 0  Failure, no credit. 0-59%


WF  Withdrawal Failing.


Instructors may assign this grade to indicate that a student has unofficially withdrawn or stopped attending classes. It may also be issued when a student fails to submit a final project or to take an examination without prior notification or approval from the instructor.  The WF grade is equivalent to an F in calculating the grade point average (zero grade points) and no credit is awarded.