STEAM – Forging links between Science and the Arts

The acronym STEM has entered common usage for the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Recently, a variation on this theme has emerged, most commonly in K-12 education,  as STEAM, which puts the Arts into STEM. Our technology-rich world today means that those seeking success in virtually any discipline need to have some competency in STEM, and the points of conjunction between the arts and STEM are rich and plentiful. As examples. music and the visual arts are heavily grounded in mathematical and physical principles, and areas such as film, radio, television, and computer gaming are only possible through implementation of engineering principles and technology. In this post, I would like to highlight a few areas where COS faculty are forging new territory along the boundary between the arts and the sciences.

Eugene Cordero in the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science is somewhat of a poster child for interdisciplinary inquiry. In 2008, Cordero and chef Laura Stec co-authored a book entitled Cool Cuisine: Taking the Bite out of Global Warming that focuses on the environmental and dietary values of dining on locally sourced foods, particularly fruits and vegetables. He was one of the driving forces behind the development of the cross-college GE course in Global Climate Change. More recently, he has initiated a program engaging students in film, art, engineering and science featuring a sustainability superhero called the Green Ninja ( The Ninja saves citizens from energy and environmental emergencies that impart sustainability lessons in the process. So far, the Ninja has appeared through computer animation, conventional animation, and live action. One of the Ninja animated films, Footprint Renovation, won a People’s Choice award at the Green Fix Flicks film festival that came with a cash award that went back into the Ninja project. Cordero also appeared on an hour long segment (with Al Gore and Virgin Air’s Richard Branson) on last November’s Online symposium: 24 Hours of Reality: The Dirty Weather Report ( This project is expanding this year to a weekly youtube television show, for which a Kickstarter Campaign is now underway:

Over in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Professor Alejandro Garcia is crossing borders through his collaborations with the SJSU animation/illustration program focusing on the Physics of Animation ( and, more recently, the optics of animation. Through these programs, Garcia has tutored animation and physics students in topics such as how far the Hulk could realistically be expected to jump within the constraints of the laws of physics and how to accurately model such as blowing hair and fire. Garcia’s work on these subjects has been supported by two National Science Foundation grants, and he spent a sabbatical last year working as physicist-in-residence for Dreamworks, earning a screen credit for the box office smash Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted for his efforts. Another physics professor, Brian Holmes, is an internationally recognized composer, as well as a performer on French horn with the Peninsula Symphony, where he is co-principal horn, as well as a member of the San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra and the Menlo Brass Quartet. Holmes also teaches an extremely popular course on the Physics of Music.

Mae Jemison, who was the first African American woman astronaut in space, is also an MD and dancer. Speaking at TED 2002, She said the following: “The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin… or even different parts of the same continuum, but rather, they are manifestations of the same thing. The arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity.” (1). I could’t agree more.