Category Archives: Features

Artwork by Emma Faith Hill (Art '17).

Thank You for Continually Teaching Me

By Emma Faith Hill (Art ’17)

When I found out, I was in a world history class with freshmen and sophomores (I was making up a credit to graduate). I was checking my phone every ten minutes and finally it came. The minute I saw it, I no longer saw it because I was crying. My teacher asked me if I was okay and a girl across from me gaped, figuring it out, “oh my God she got in.” I picked up my bag and ran out of the classroom and across campus to the visual arts building, rushing into the director’s office, heaving with salt water, “I did it!” She hugged me with a mother’s embrace, and a sense of fulfillment ensued for the last month of high school.

It is the experience of education without financial consequence, revealing a desire for knowledge and freedom you’d never realized you’d needed before.

 

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The Golden Cricket Project

By Sam Jiang (ME ‘19)

For many, there’s still a mental block on munching on bugs, but more and more people are embracing insects as an environmentally-friendly source of protein. Ranching bugs is considerably less resource-intensive than raising traditional livestock, but there’s some nutrients we just can’t get out of insects—like vitamin A! This summer, Professors Medvedik and Janjusevic at the Kanbar Center are kicking off a new project as part Cooper Union’s STEM Program, with the ultimate goal of improving the nutritional value of edible insects.

Vitamin A deficiency is incredibly prevalent in poorer countries, and is especially dangerous—children without enough vitamin A are in danger of going blind. While rich in protein, crickets lack β-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, and many other essential nutrients. Foods rich in β-carotene—such as carrots, or the genetically engineered Golden Rice—have a trademark yellow-orange color. The goal of the Golden Cricket Project is to use genetic engineering to create a cricket rich in both protein and β-carotene, which the body can synthesize into vitamin A.

Here’s the thing with genetic engineering, though: The more complex the organism, the harder it is to rewrite its genome without messing something up. Although we think of insects as fairly simple organisms, it’s still too difficult to genetically coerce the cricket into producing β-carotene on its own. Bacteria, on the other hand, grow rapidly, with some strains easily absorbing foreign genetic information, making them perfect candidates for β-carotene synthesis.

Before moving further, let’s have a small review session on high school biology. DNA codes for proteins, and proteins facilitate biological processes, like the production of vitamin A from β-carotene. In order to create a bacteria that produces β-carotene, the DNA sequence for every protein involved in β-carotene synthesis needs to be inserted into the bacterial genome. This bacteria will then be fed to the crickets; they will live and reproduce in the crickets’ gut, constantly churning out β-carotene, eventually turning the mundane cricket into a Golden Cricket.

Before the Golden Cricket can be made, many other issues need to be addressed. First and foremost is determining which bacteria to genetically transform into a vitamin factory. Professor Medvedic discusses potentially using common probiotics: “We’d like to use Lactobacillus, but maybe the type that we choose isn’t suitable for cricket gut.” Professor Janjusevic’s solution to that potential problem is to isolate and analyze an existing gut microbe, guaranteeing that the resultant β-carotene factory will be able to survive within the cricket. The final genetically-engineered microbe needs to be able to produce β-carotene and thrive and reproduce within the cricket in order to be considered a success.

Aside from technical difficulties, this project faces other, less scientific long-term hurdles. Most of Western society is still heavily opposed to eating insects, but the Golden Cricket itself is targeted more towards undeveloped nations where vitamin A deficiency is a real issue. In the media, there’s also a lot of misinformation and fear-mongering surrounding the use of genetically-modified organisms. Both of these are issues that can potentially limit long-term adoption of organisms like the Golden Cricket. ◊

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The House of the Suicide

By Sam Jiang (ME ‘19)

Ominous black spikes point skywards in Cooper Square Park–it’s impossible to miss the new additions to the Cooper skyline: The House of the Suicide and the House of the Mother of the Suicide, also known as the Jan Palach Memorial. Based on the designs of John Hejduk, a Czech-American architect who served as Cooper Union’s founding Dean of Architecture from 1975 to 2000, the two installations blend sculpture and architecture, with the black structure–the Mother–containing a tiny room with a tiny window that forever watches over her Son.

Photos by Zheng Alex Liu
Photos by Zheng Alex Liu

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The Glimmering Wing

By: Matthew Grattan (ChE ‘19) | Kavya Udupa (BSE ‘19)

The Glimmering Wing, an art show by Emma Faith Hill (Art ‘17), Mary Wichmann (Art ‘19), and Page Page, was held in the gallery of 41 Cooper Square, February 28 to March 4. The show’s title is a reference to a library wing, one of few private spaces for public use. Emma Faith Hill approached Wichmann and Page with the idea of “making work under the frame of a haptic library—haptic meaning learning through feel and touch. Physicalizing the visceral was the main approach of the show.

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Everyone Shops Together!

By: Sam Jiang (ME ‘19)

For a university established “for the Advancement of Science and Art,” students from the different schools have very little opportunity for interaction. They are confined to different buildings and workspaces with almost entirely separate curriculums. There’s no good reason for this, especially considering that there are some important skills that all first-year students would benefit from: physical prototyping using hand tools and other equipment available in Cooper Union’s’ machine shops.

Recognizing this common ground between disciplines, a group of students working with Professor Lima drafted a proposal for a new class. This class would allow students from all three schools to work together in a shared environment to learn fundamentals of working with metal and wood using common tools, a skill set important to each of their majors.

Shop Class Now
Currently, all students are required to attend a machine shop “class” of sorts, where the different tools and machines are introduced and demonstrated. However, this tutorial amounts to little more than a general shop-safety orientation: students never get a hands-on experience and merely watch the operators describe and use the machines.
In reality, first-year engineering students have few opportunities to get their hands dirty—there just aren’t many 100-level classes that necessitate physical prototyping. EID101 is the only mandatory project-based class, and even then, the amount of hands-on work that you do varies pretty widely between sections: an engineering student can easily go their entire freshman year without ever returning to the machine shop.

In my experience, it’s definitely true that many engineering students are woefully inexperienced when it comes to building; in Design and Prototyping, a 200-level mechanical engineering course, many of the students in the class had zero prior experience, with at least a few admitting that this class was the first time they’d actually used a drill.

On the contrary, first-year art students have way more experience actually making things: 3D Design gets them familiar with tools and machines, with turning abstract concepts into physical prototypes. Engineers have no analogous class, and this proposed course seeks to rectify this issue, simultaneously opening up avenues for interdisciplinary cooperation.

The Pitch
Pranav Joneja (ME ‘18), one of the students who drafted the proposal, notes that “a class like EID101 doesn’t need to be limited to only engineers. Wouldn’t it be great if that class was cross-disciplinary? There’s no real reason it can’t be; the only limitation is the separated structures of the three schools.” This encapsulates the inspiration behind the proposal, whose main goals include the creation of a shared machine shop and a new class where artists, architects and engineers can work together to create installations for Cooper Square Park, turning it into a functional, student-built community space.

Another group of students has proposed a winter intensive with similar goals of fostering collaboration between the three schools. Students would work in small groups—mixed between schools—and use their differing areas of expertise to solve real-world problems similar to those encountered in EID101. Working together with other students with different skillsets and perspectives is an invaluable experience; it’s a shame that such interactions are so uncommon. These two proposals aim to break down the imaginary walls by promoting cooperation, collaboration and respect among the three schools. ◊

“Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)”

By Gabriela Godlewski (CE ‘19)

In his day, Peter Cooper was known as a humanitarian who gave back to his community of New York City. One of his most significant and lasting acts of philanthropy was, as one can guess, the founding of a little college known as The Cooper Union. One hundred and fifty years later, the institution is still giving back to its community in more ways than just producing artists, architects, and engineers. Unknown to most of the student body, Cooper proudly hosts the Retraining Program for Immigrant Engineers, which is a program that allows immigrants with backgrounds in science or engineering in their home countries to use their education to serve their new country. The program not only provides classes and educational resources to the students, but also aims to help them find work once their retraining is complete.

The Retraining Program for Immigrant Engineers has been in action for the past twenty years. It was originally started in 1987 by Bnai Zion inspired by the number of engineers emigrating to the United States from the Soviet Union at the time. The program was held in the Bnai Zion Scientists Division in Midtown who shortly formed a partnership with Cooper in 1991, as both institutions had a common aim of giving back to the community. In 2015, Cooper Union began hosting the entire program by holding the classes and career counseling for members of the program found through the Bnai Zion Foundation. Although the program is very accommodating, it still has important limits—those enrolling in the program must be legal immigrants who hold degrees in science or engineering from an institution in their home country.
The Cooper Union provides the program with classrooms, academic curricula, and professors to teach a variety of classes ranging from classes specialized in technology and other branches of science to business tactics. The program not only gives immigrant engineers another education but also works very hard in providing jobs for them. Around 60% of participants in the program find work through the program as well. These jobs are acquired through networking—something Cooper students are familar with. Like our own Career Development Center, the Retraining Program helps the participants find jobs through exercises such as resume preparation and mock interviews as well as finding jobs through professional networking.

This program is significant in present day, especially in places like New York City where over a third of the population are foreign-born immigrants. For centuries, people from all over the world have emigrated to the United States, especially to cities like New York City, in hopes of attaining a better life for themselves and their families. Many of them would be educated in very specialized fields, but would have to give up their education because they didn’t have access to something like the Retraining Program. Thus, the stereotype of immigrants working menial jobs despite having been surgeons in their home countries persist. Access to the Retraining Program allows immigrants to not only lead better lives themselves in their new home, but to also serve the country in a positive way. ◊

190 Bowery

by Pranav Joneja (ME ’18)

The main entrance to 190 Bowery St. “The portico, which contains a flight of bluestone steps leading to the main doorway,  features freestanding Tuscan columns, decorated with rosettes and egg-and-dart moldings, supporting a molded entablature.”  Photo by Winter Leng (ChE ‘18).
The main entrance to 190 Bowery St. “The portico, which contains a flight of bluestone steps leading to the main doorway, features freestanding Tuscan columns, decorated with rosettes and egg-and-dart moldings, supporting a molded entablature.” Photo by Winter Leng (ChE ‘18).

Just ten blocks south of Cooper’s Foundation Building, the six-story building at 190 Bowery St. is a mystery. It contrasts the high-tech mid-rise buildings adjoining it with an air of regal Renaissance Revival architecture similar to the likes of Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Club.

But in its state today, to say the lower floors are covered in graffiti would be an understatement. It features overlapping affiches advertising scene music, a large announcement that “COST was here” and off-skilter block letters “NEKST” as tall as a person. It has been called Manhattan’s Graffiti Mecca because even when the exterior is power-washed, it only serves to create a blank canvas for famous street artists like Keith Haring, Sean Griffin and others. In fact, when the building was designated a New York City Landmark in 2005 the street art was even approved to remain on the ground floor during the restoration process. The mix of graffiti on Renaissance Revival architecture is conspicuous, but it feels like the graffiti has always been there because it really has constantly been there—changing and renewing itself for decades.

The main entrance occupies the chamfered northwest corner of Spring Street and Bowery, projecting its stately presence down the whole block. Together with the second entrance, the building is barred forebodingly—one entrance with a heavy wrought-iron gate while the other shut firmly with a stout, solid oak door. And therein lies the mystery of this manor—almost no one has been inside in the last 50 years (except for a single, three-hour art show last year).

The building was built in 1899 and designed by Robert Maynicke, an alumnus of Cooper Union’s School of Architecture, for use as Germania Bank’s headquarters. At the time, Lower East Manhattan was known as Kleindeutschland or Little Germany and was home to nearly 25,000 German immigrants. As a bank building, it was fitted with all the fanciful fixtures of the time: a golden elevator (now encased in glass), multiple skylights, numerous atria and of course a bank vault—claimed to be the most secure in New York at the time. There was a spree of bank acquisitions and mergers in the ‘30s and so the building gladly continued to be operated by one bank after another… until 1966 when it was bought for around $100,000 by Jay Maisel to become his private residence and studio.

Jay Maisel is an alumnus of Cooper Union’s School of Art and has a prominent career in photography, capturing photos of Marilyn Monroe and Miles Davis though he is even more famous for his photography of “light, color and gesture found in everyday life”. He lived and worked at 190 Bowery with his wife (and daughter) for 48 years. According to an interview in New York Magazine, “the first, second, and third floors were gallery spaces for his photography and art projects. The fourth floor, which Maisel once rented out to Roy Lichtenstein, is a work-in-progress. The fifth has various workshops” and the sixth was for his family.

When he sold the building in February 2015, the real estate headlines screamed of numbers never-before-imagined in the crowded Manhattan real estate market: 35,000 square feet, 72 rooms, $55 million! Still, it was sold to real estate magnate Aby Rosen, who has since leased it out to become high-tech office space for a creative firm, Great Bowery. ◊