Education Programs: Humanities Connections Implementation Grants

Period of Performance

7/1/2018 - 6/30/2023

Funding Totals

$100,000.00 (approved)
$98,740.41 (awarded)

Situating Chemical Elements in the Human World to Innovate Undergraduate Education

FAIN: AKB-260492-18

SUNY Research Foundation, Binghamton (Binghamton, NY 13902-4400)
Pamela Smart (Project Director: October 2017 to present)
Valerie Imbruce (Co Project Director: April 2018 to January 2023)

Creation of a general education course, three freshman research seminars, and an interactive app that focus on physical material from the multiple perspectives of science and humanities disciplines.

Materials Matter is a collaborative project of colleagues in Classical and Near Eastern Studies, Art and Design, Art History, Physics, Materials Science and Engineering, and Binghamton University’s Undergraduate Research Center, along with partners at the Corning Museum of Glass. We propose to reposition the humanities within the curriculum by teaching emerging research in the humanities to STEM students and, reciprocally, the latest science to humanities students. We will expand upon a pilot course to scale out in two directions: intensive freshmen research seminars and a general education course. Both will focus on materials, like glass or pigments, and explore the relationship between chemical elements and culture using humanities research methodologies alongside quantitative scientific methods, integrated through a coherent visual design and interactive app. A museum exhibition and summer research scholarship will present further opportunities for engagement.

Associated Products

Fall 2019 Materials Matter Syllabus and Labs (Course or Curricular Material)
Title: Fall 2019 Materials Matter Syllabus and Labs
Author: Collaboratively authored by the Materials Matter team
Abstract: Materials Matter Fall 2019 syllabus with revised lab reports appended.
Year: 2019
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: The URL is a link to a shared Google Drive file. The pdf has also been uploaded.
Audience: Undergraduate

Zur Humanisierung des Wissens: Inside the Atom, Materials Matter und die MINT-Werkzeugkiste [Humanizing knowledge: Inside the Atom, Materials Matter, and STEM Toolbox] (Book Section)
Title: Zur Humanisierung des Wissens: Inside the Atom, Materials Matter und die MINT-Werkzeugkiste [Humanizing knowledge: Inside the Atom, Materials Matter, and STEM Toolbox]
Author: Gokhan Ersan
Author: Pamela G Smart
Author: Louis F Piper
Author: Valerie Imbruce
Author: Mark Poliks
Author: Hilary Becker
Author: Marvin Bolt
Author: Kevin Lahoda
Editor: Hilary Becker
Abstract: A group of STEM education initiatives at SUNY Binghamton shares ISOTYPE Institute’s mission to democratize knowledge. These projects are also inspired by the ISOTYPE method of pictorial storytelling. In this chapter, the authors will touch on three main points. They will discuss how Marie Neurath’s science storytelling inspired Materials Matter App components. This will be followed by a section discussing the NEH awarded Materials Matter course, a course that bridges material culture with materials science. Authors will talk about the course’s pedagogical framework, and discuss how this pedagogy is applied in the classroom, has inspired curatorial work, and is mirrored by the web-based tool, the Materials Matter App. The final segment will focus on how design work done for the Materials Matter App inspired the STEM Toolbox App. Synergy between the two Apps enabled a more encompassing toolbox, one that is capable of describing different material classes, for example, archaeological artifacts and energy materials. The chapter will conclude with a discussion of what Materials Matter and STEM Toolbox mean for the future of ISOTYPE pedagogy; and why ISOTYPE matters today as a living philosophy, and not merely as a topic of design-historical interest.
Year: 2021
Book Title: Die Konturen der Welt Geschichte und Gegenwart visueller Bildung nach Otto Neurath [The contours of the world : past and present of visual education according to Otto Neurath]

Past and Present of Isotype (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Past and Present of Isotype
Author: Gokhan Ersan
Author: Pamela Smart
Author: Louis Piper
Author: Hilary Becker
Author: Lynn Schmitt
Author: Valerie Imbruce
Abstract: ,
Date: 09/30/2021

Revisiting Iris Green: Medieval Meets Modern in the Classroom (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Revisiting Iris Green: Medieval Meets Modern in the Classroom
Author: Lynn D Schmitt
Author: Hilary Becker
Author: Pamela Smart
Author: Valerie Imbruce
Author: Colin Lyons
Author: Jeffrey Pietras
Author: Andrea Kastner
Author: Nancy Um
Abstract: The preparation of Iris Green, an anthrocyanin chelate derived from blue iris flowers, can be found in several manuscripts including the Mappa Clavicula (12 cen.), the De Arte Illuminandi Manuscript (14th cen.), and the Paduan Manuscript (15 cen.). Using medieval procedures, modern extraction techniques, and commercially available binding mediums, students are able to create a fairly stable green paint in one hour, and evaluate the paint’s performance on different surfaces (wood, vinyl, cement, and paper) and its properties (such as opacity, UV sensitivity, and adhesion).
Date: 11/03/2021

Materials Matter Syllabus (Course or Curricular Material)
Title: Materials Matter Syllabus
Author: Hilary Becker, Lynn Schmitt, Brittany Fullen
Abstract: Science and the humanities are often understood to be entirely separate domains of enquiry, each with its distinctive objects and modes of study. This course draws these two fields into conversation with each other through an interdisciplinary focus on specific materials, from their elemental structure, the technologies of their manufacture, the social and historical conditions that provoked and sustained experimentation in their substance and form, through to the impact of innovations in materials at specific historical junctures. Classes will integrate lectures across a range of disciplinary fields, with hands-on interaction with materials, and labs that will include analyses of pigment, ceramics, and glass in the collection of the Binghamton University Art Museum.
Year: 2021
Audience: Undergraduate

Thinking Through Painting (Course or Curricular Material)
Title: Thinking Through Painting
Author: Pamela Smart
Abstract: This course is about investigating the effects that artists elicit through the materials they use and their techniques of application. It will take an historical approach to artists’ paints and painting techniques, paying particular attention to moments of intense experimentation with new formulations and transformed studio practices at specific historical junctures. How do specific artists mobilize paints, canvas, varnish, and other materials to communicate with viewers? We will explore who the artist imagines he or she is primarily engaging with and to what end, and how audiences and their manner of engagement with paintings is shaped in specific historical and cultural circumstances. Students will have hands-on experience with different kinds of paints—including tempera, oil, watercolors, and acrylics—to gain some insight into how they behave, along with techniques of application specific to particular paints and artists. No artistic expertise is necessary nor expected! During the first semester of the course, students will participate in the close analysis of several paintings from differing historical periods. We will use a range of analytic techniques and historical records to glean information concerning the pigments used, how they were applied, and whether or not the paintings are what they claim to be. The second semester of this two-course sequence will entail a guided research process whereby students will each conduct an in-depth analysis of a painting of any time period in the collection of the Binghamton University Art Museum and will together conceptualize and develop an exhibition focusing on these works that will open in the museum in the last week of the Spring semester. This annual sequence can be taken to fulfill the Aesthetics (A), Oral Communication (O), and Composition (C) general education requirements.
Year: 2020
Audience: Undergraduate

Bonds, Glass Bonds (Exhibition)
Title: Bonds, Glass Bonds
Curator: Marvin Bolt
Curator: Pamela Smart
Curator: Gokhan Ersan, designer
Abstract: The exhibition, Bonds, Glass Bonds, presented at the Binghamton University Art Museum (BUAM), was conceived to materialize our integrative approach to materials and serve as a teaching tool. It explored the physical-chemical bonds that give glass its unique properties and the social bonds that people develop in the production, exchange, and use of glass objects. The graphical iconography portraying the atomic connections between the elements that make up glass was used also to highlight the human connections underlying the various glass artifacts on display. The artifacts in the exhibition representing three millennia of glass from around the world, ranged from samples of natural glass, a Roman urn, a glass fishing float, a Soviet era vacuum tube that was made in Havana and used by our local hospital in a device for the treatment of cancer, an Afghani kite with a cut glass string, to 20st Century art glass.
Year: 2022
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Museum Website Announcement of the Exhibition
Secondary URL:
Secondary URL Description: Binghamton University news story covering the exhibition