Over the years I’ve taught a number of undergraduate and graduate physics courses, both at Caltech and Stanford, focusing mainly on quantum engineering and control theory. Recently all my teaching at Stanford has focused on undergraduate courses that either explore the interdisciplinary reach of traditional craft or bridge STEM fields with the arts and humanities. Below I summarize what I consider to be my active portfolio of classes through which I am rotating from year to year; my actual current offerings can be found in the Stanford ExploreCourses catalog.
ARTHIST284/484, Material Metonymy: Ceramics and Asian America. (With Marci Kwon, new for AY2022-23) This course explores the rich history and contemporary state of ceramic production by Asian American/diasporic makers. It is also about the way history, culture, and emotion are carried by process, technique, and materials. This course will privilege close examination of works of art at the Cantor Arts Center, and will also include artist studio visits, discussions with curators and conservators, demonstrations of and experimentation with technical processes of studio ceramics. This course is designed for students with interests in making, art history, engineering, intellectual history, and Asian American studies.
APPPHYS/ARTSTINST100, The Questions of Clay: Craft, Creativity and Scientific Process. Students work in a ceramics studio for all ten weeks of the quarter. The primary focus of the course is creative process; students learn about a principled approach to creative process through readings (principally Six Drawing Lessons by William Kentridge) and discussion, and are guided to put this method into practice in the ceramics studio. At the same time, lectures demonstrate some ways in which the same approach to creative process can be used in conducting scholarly and scientific research. The final project requires students to produce ceramic pieces that embody images and concepts from research they have been conducting (on topics of their own choice without any constraints) in a semi-guided way throughout the quarter. [Stanford News article and video]
APPPHYS/ARTSINST100B, The Questions of Cloth: Weaving, Pattern Complexity and Structures of Fabric. Students learn to weave on a manual shaft loom; this experience with mechanical logic and weaving drafts provides an entry point to teach core concepts of computer science such as data compression and algorithmic complexity. Students produce hand-woven textile samples and explore ways of encoding data/information in the topological structure of fabrics. We discuss mathematical representations of spatial dimension and consider differences among 2D, 3D and 4D embeddings of curves/thread.
APPPHYS100Q, Indigo. Students grow indigo as a plant at the Stanford O’Donohue Family Educational Farm, use fresh indigo leaves to dye textiles using traditional methods, experiment with traditional patterning techniques for indigo dyeing, and learn about indigo as a molecule and semiconducting solid. This focus on indigo over the ages – from traditional dyeing methods developed all over the world thousands of years ago to modern interests in indigo as a model organic semiconductor – provides a foundation for bringing in related cultural material including the history of colonial labor exploitation in India and enslaved labor in the Carolinas. Hands-on work in this class is used to help students contextualize readings that constantly refer to the laborious nature of indigo production, and to the contrast between traditional and modern-industrial approaches to indigo dyeing where the latter has become a major source of environmental harm in the 21st century.
APPPHYS/ARCHLGY189, Physical Analysis of Artworks. This course focuses on the use of analytic equipment available through the Stanford Nano Shared Facilities to study art materials and art-making processes, and how such analyses intertwine with contextual cultural and historic research. It includes a making component in synthesizing historic pigments and turning them into usable paints, which could be expanded in future offerings of this course. This hands-on experience helps students to better appreciate technical art history, the ingenuity of diverse ancient cultures, and the essential structure of making processes such as firing ceramics. [Stanford News article]
JAPAN126/226, Japanese Functional Objects. (With Ariel Stilerman and Craig Milroy) Students spend four weeks making ceramic vessels and four weeks practicing hand joinery techniques for wood, all at the Stanford Product Realization Lab. This is not a “skills” course; the purpose of the hands-on studio component is to deepen students’ ability to engage with conceptual material relating to traditional aesthetics and the long arc (say the last 10,000 years) of the history of ways of making. Hands-on studio work is set in the context of readings (including philosophy and literature) and discussion. Students work materials directly with their fingers or with basic hand tools; creative projects are formulated to help explore the way in which tacit knowledge of materials and processes guides aesthetic choices and yet opens room for serendipity in the creative process. [Stanford News article and video]