A partnership between ACT and MIT.nano, the class “Creating Art, Thinking Science” asks what it really takes to cultivate dialogue between disciplines

Editorial direction by Leah Talatinian
Written by Matilda Bathurst, Arts at MIT

MIT has a rich history of productive collaboration between the arts and the sciences, anchored by the conviction that these two conventionally opposed ways of thinking can form a deeply generative symbiosis that serves to advance and humanize new technologies.

This ethos was made tangible when the Bauhaus artist and educator György Kepes established the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) within the Department of Architecture in 1967. CAVS has since evolved into the Art, Culture, and Technology (ACT) program, which fosters close links to multiple other programs, centers, and labs at MIT. The class “Creating Art, Thinking Science” (4.373/4.374), open to undergraduates and master’s students of all disciplines as well as certain students from Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), is one of the program’s most innovative offerings, proposing a model for how the relationship between art and science might play out at a time of exponential technological growth.

Now in its third year, the class is supported by an Interdisciplinary Class Development Grant from the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST) and draws upon the unparalleled resources of MIT.nano; an artist’s high-tech toolbox for investigating the hidden structures and beauty of our material universe.

High ambitions and critical thinking


The class was initiated by Tobias Putrih, lecturer in ACT, and is taught with the assistance of Ardalan SadeghiKivi MArch ’23, and Aubrie James, SMACT ’24. Central to the success of the class has been the collaboration with co-instructor Vladimir Bulović, the founding director of MIT.nano and Fariborz Maseeh Chair in Emerging Technology, who has positioned the facility as an open-access resource for the campus at large—including MIT’s community of artists. “Creating Art, Thinking Science” unfolds the 100,000 sq ft of cleanroom and lab space within the Lisa T. Su Building, inviting participating students to take advantage of cutting-edge equipment for nanoscale visualization and fabrication; in the hands of artists, devices for discovering nanostructures and manipulating atoms become tools for rendering the invisible visible and deconstructing the dynamics of perception itself.

The expansive goals of the class are tempered by an in-built criticality. “ACT has a unique position as an art program nested within a huge scientific institute—and the challenges of that partnership should not be underestimated,” reflects Putrih. “Science and art are wholly different knowledge systems with distinct historical perspectives. So, how do we communicate? How do we locate that middle ground, that third space?”

An evolving answer, tested and developed throughout the partnership between ACT and MIT.nano, involves a combination of attentive mentorship and sharing of artistic ideas, combined with access to advanced technological resources and hands-on practical training.

“MIT.nano currently accommodates more than  1,200 individuals to do their work, across 250 different research groups,” said Bulović. “The fact that we count artists among those is a matter of pride for us. We’ve found that the work of our scientists and technologists is enhanced by having access to the language of art as a form of expression—equally, the way that artists express themselves can be stretched beyond what could previously be imagined, simply by having access to the tools and instruments at MIT.nano.”

Full article can be read here.