Northwestern Engineering Artist-at-Large Program: Dario Robleto

[MUSIC PLAYING] Collaborations between
artists and engineers can change the
course of history. When you look at what happened
during the Renaissance, it’s amazing. Now, the question is, how
can you produce that again? [MUSIC PLAYING] The focus of the
Artists-at-Large program is to embed artists in
the School of Engineering who are already asking a
lot of the same questions that scientists and
engineers were asking, but coming at those questions
from very different ways. Artists now, they are
almost provocateurs. They are people who expand your
thinking, transform, reveal, provoke. When we brought Dario Robleto,
we wanted someone curious. And Dario, I thought
he was such a person. Science is proceeding at a
pace that it far outruns known ethical discussion or problems. We can’t get off the hook
with it’s down the road. It’s right now. And we need to talk about it. For my work, the
conversations I’ve been having with
Dario have revolved around how to actually implement
the technology for society, particularly when it’s funded by
society, which most of science is. Those are questions
that I would love to say that I think
about on a daily basis, but I didn’t until I
started speaking with Dario and realizing how we could be
thinking about our science. It’s really putting the
emphasis on the process of learning how we think. And the humanities
can aid in this. We’re very interested
in creating a technology that lets people
monitor their own water quality. I really did think it
was a pretty clean win. And then, just actually in the
process of talking, realizing, it might mean something totally
different to somebody else, where they have no
choice but to drink it. And they’re now faced
knowing that they’re consuming contaminated water. These are deep, societal issues. “You know, what do we
mean by the natural?” Every interaction
with Dario has left me feeling more excited
about what he does and about what I do. What those
conversations have done is give pause to focus on what
we really think is important. Dario is our Socrates,
you know, challenging us to go beyond and
ask us to ask ourselves different questions. One thing I often
argue to scientists is that we’re both,
at some level, trying to increase
the sensitivity of our observations. If you can do that as an
artist, you’re probably going to be a pretty good one. And if you can do
that as a scientist, probably going to be
a pretty good one. This program is really
in its infancy right now. We don’t really know
where it will go. But it’s a bit like
when a scientist goes into her laboratory and has no
idea where her experiment may lead, but she pursues it, and
pursues it, and pursues it, out of curiosity, a
desire for knowledge. It’s not something that
you’re going to see the benefits immediately. Maybe you’re lucky and
you’ll get one idea that you can incorporate in your work. But it is more of an
investment for the future. The analogy would be that
I give you a lit match, and what I hope is
for a forest fire. [MUSIC PLAYING]

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