MIT Media Lab research affiliate Marcelo Coelho SM ’08, PhD ’13. Image: Joi Ito/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
MIT Media Lab research affiliate Marcelo Coelho SM ’08, PhD ’13. Image: Joi Ito/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

“If you ever try to do something in a science lab that’s not science, people look at you in a really funny way.” So says MIT Media Lab research affiliate Marcelo Coelho SM ’08, PhD ’13. What earned him funny looks? Using an electron microscope to etch drawings of castles on single grains of sand.

Coelho’s four-year collaboration with the artist Vik Muniz produced a series of these castles, which are rendered in lines one-thousandth the width of a human hair, and then photographed and enlarged to wall-sized prints that reveal the contours of their tiny canvases as craggy landscapes. And those funny looks, as Coelho recently told the New York Times, quickly turned into enthusiasm as the images captured his fellow researchers’ imaginations.

The pairing of Coelho and Muniz is one of more than 30 projects that have emerged since 2012 from the MIT Center for Art, Science and Technology (CAST), which was launched by the office of associate provost Philip S. Khoury, who oversees the arts at MIT. By embedding artists such as Muniz, Tomás Saraceno, Anicka Yi, and many others in MIT labs, according to the Times, CAST “has revitalized an MIT model begun in the late 1960s of bringing in artists to humanize technology and create more expansive-thinking scientists. MIT is at the forefront of this cross-disciplinary movement with its institutional commitment, but it is drawing on a legacy of artists who are interested in science that dates back to Leonardo da Vinci and that has proliferated as technology has become ever more commonplace and accessible.”

A collaboration with the School of Architecture + Planning and the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, CAST is funded, in part, by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and this past fall it received a $1 million philanthropic boost in the form of the new Dasha Zhukova Distinguished Visiting Artist Program. In addition to artist residencies, CAST has given rise to cross-disciplinary courses and workshops, the concert series MIT Sounding, and numerous multimedia projects, lectures, and symposia.

Read the full Times article.

See a video on how the “Sandcastles” project came together.

Learn more about CAST.

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