How Do We Look? - featured

How Do We Look?

Jenna Lee (ME ‘15)

An old adage claims that “everyone is an artist”, but is it really true?

This year’s exhibition, “How Do We Look?” shows an attempt to use science and technology as a foundation for art by engineering students in last semester’s Scientific Photography class. Can photographs express motions? Time? Right next to the entrance of the exhibition, Michael Pimpinella’s (ME ‘14) work asks these questions to the audience. Against the preconception that photography is a static art form, students including Ferdy Budhidharma (ChE ‘14), Joann Lee (ChE ’13) and Eric Leong (ME ‘14) toy with time and the photographic medium.

Their work has the theme of motion and time in common, skillfully depicting the lapse of time in a single snapshot. Some raises more fundamental questions about our perception of the world: Mindy Wong in work identifies herself using a collection of magnified images of her hair, skin and other parts of her body.

Robert Yankou (ME ’13), on the other hand, questions our understanding of “color”, as it is mathematically displayed using a limited, discrete set of numbers.

William Biesiadecki (ME ‘14) questions how reliable our memory is, comparing human memories to evanescent ripples on the pond.

Elizabeth Kilson (EE ‘14) tries to get the closest view on animals using her camera, offering a different look on the small creatures we run into every day. There are also explorations on technology of photography, as Uyên Nguyễn’s (ME ‘14) holograms, or Victor Chen’s (EE ‘13) attempt to abandon normal flat images and to see the world in a different angle, a distorted, fish-eye way.

All in all, the exhibition shows that engineers can also be great artists, raising similar questions as artists do, only using more scientific tools such as microscopes and infrared lights. Would it be a mere coincidence that Joann Lee’s pictures strikingly resemble Magritte’s The Empire of Light?

Photos by Jenna Lee (ME’15)

2012 Election Summary

Matthew Lee (ME ‘15)

Tuesday, November 6th marked the re-election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. President Obama won the election with 332 electoral votes to Mitt Romney’s 206, a notable drop from then Senator Obama’s landslide victory over Senator McCain of 359 over 179. In addition, the 2012 popular vote was won by only about 3,000,000 votes, where the 2008 election carried Obama by more than 10,000,000 votes.

This year Obama won more votes from non-white voters, young voters, women, and those in big cities. Romney won more votes from college graduates and those with higher incomes.

Republicans lost 2 seats in the Senate, which were replaced by 1 Democratic and 1 Independent Senator. In the House of Representatives, Republicans lost 9 seats, Democrats gained 2, and the remaining 7 Representatives are of neither political party.

This election had some other notable results. This election marks the first time since 1820 that three consecutive incumbent presidents have been re-elected. Due to Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey voters were permitted to email their votes in, the first time in history this has ever occurred. Two astronauts voted from the International Space Station. The first Asian-American Woman and the first Buddhist Senator was elected in Hawaii, Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). Mrs. Hirono was a member of the House of Representatives, and her successful election gave way to the election of the first Hindu Representative, Tulsi Gabbard.

For the first time, marijuana was legalized for recreational use in Colorado and Washington. Medical Marijuana is currently legal in 18 states. Same-sex marriage was legalized in Maryland, Maine, and Washington. These three states are the first to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote, rather than by legislation or litigation. Minnesota became to first state to reject a state-wide constitutional ban against same-sex marriage. 38 states currently have same-sex marriage bans, 9 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, and 3 have no laws for or against same-sex marriage.

Your Flu Shot Counts: Get One

Tensae Andargachew (ME ‘15)

On Monday, November 12, 2012, the Cooper Union offered students, faculty, and a staff a free flu vaccination, attempting to entice the community with a chance at winning an Amazon gift card and the opportunity to throw a pie at Dean Wolf’s face. Although the latter was only allowed should 60% of the Cooper population get vaccinated, which we failed to accomplish, an estimated 230 people (roughly 25% of the school) got the flu shot that day. An additional 70 people had also received a flu shot, either from Cooper’s October flu shot program, or from CVS, Walgreens, or their family doctor, meaning that for all intents and purposes approximately 30% of the school has received the 2012 vaccine.

What does this mean for the Cooper community? For starters, almost 1 in 3 people we meet in the halls, on the staircases or in the Foundation Building will have been vaccinated. So suppose there was an outbreak of the flu in the school. Dean Wolf provided a computer simulation, written by Shane Killian and modified by Robert Webb, whose work has been featured in PC Plus Magazine, written to mathematically model what might happen in the case of an outbreak. I ran a simulation with 30% of the population inoculated, to see a possible outcome:

At the end of this simulation, 99.63% of the people who were not vaccinated got the flu, while 50.58% of the people who were inocculated got the flu. Of course, this is a very general stochastic mathematical model, which may not be the most accurate model of what might happen to our instituition, should there be an outbreak. The model assumes a population of 800 while our population is closer to 1100. This model also seems to assume complete and total interaction of the population, which is not necessarily what happens to the extent the model presumes.

Moreover, the model also seems to assume that the people who are vaccinated are randomly dispersed throughout the population. However, the data suggests otherwise – 22% of the students of the School of Engineering received the vaccination, while 18% of the students from the School of Art and 20% from the School of Architecture did.
This model may well be a best case scenario for the school, which should be a very sobering fact. Had 80% been inoculated, we would have reached “herd inoculation” which would have protected almost all of us.

However, there is one thing that this simulation does tell us which is unfortunately even more dour – the flu virus is an incredibly contagious disease.

This year’s vaccination tackles three different strains of the virus – one influenza A H3N2 virus, one influenza A H1N1 virus (swine flu) and one influenza B virus.

All three are particularly nasty and someone getting one of these during the school year, introducing it into the school would not bode well for many of us. Many people don’t appreciate the difference between the common cold and the flu. Flu symptoms are often much worse, and can last for up to two weeks.

There is however at least one good thing that did come of this: those who were vaccinated have a reduced chance of getting the flu, as will the people they associated with, according to some studies. Also, if you are vaccinated, and still get the flu, your symptoms are likely to be less severe. Still, despite the extended hours for getting a flu shot and the relative ease of getting a shot – at best roughly 30% of the school is vaccinated. What might be attributed to the low turnout?

One possibility is that the hours did not work for all students. And while it is true that the School of Art, School of Engineering and School of Architecture have different hours, it seems unlikely that ten minutes could not be spared by more people. Dean Wolf believes that, in part, the low turnout was due to some misconceptions that students have about the vaccination itself.

As he went around the school on Monday night, advocating all get the flu shot, he had encountered some students who believed that because they ate healthy and exercised regularly, the flu shot was not necessary. Some believed myths about the flu shot – such as that it gave Alzheimer’s or autism. None of that is supported by medical science, for the record.

There is another possibility, and it is the case with so many other times in life – people figured that “everyone else will do what needs to be done (get a flu shot), so I don’t need to. But failing to get a flu shot because you believe others will is free riding on the sanitary responsibility of others.”

The numbers from this round of flu vaccinations at Cooper do not indicate that to be a safe bet at all. The safest, and wisest, thing to do is to get the shot because you will be protecting your health and the health of others.

Cooper’s Sandy Relief Efforts

Caroline Yu (EE ‘15)

Hurricane Sandy has been the talk of 2012 fall season. Sandy brought many inches of rain and, in some areas, snow, but was most destructive in coastal regions where there were storm surges 9-12 feet above normal. From stories of despair to inspiring stories of community building, Sandy has helped many people identify what things are most important in their lives.

To help the New York City residents who need the most aid, students, faculty, and staff at Cooper have gone above and beyond in efforts to restore communities. Below are some of the many ways Cooper’s various clubs and individuals took part in Sandy relief efforts.

The Society of Women Engineers, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, and Hillel Cooper collected donations for New York City Urban Project’s Feed500 relief effort.

Students prepared and distributed necessities to affected areas, shelters, and relief organizations. Not only was this an inspirational gathering of volunteers, individuals connected with other individuals affected by the storm who had the same strong spirit and motivation to rebuild and recover quickly.

For an entire week, the Origami Club made everyone getting onto the elevators or going up the Grand Staircase stop in awe of origami creations. Suggested donations and auctioned off pieces raised a little less than $2000.

Zeta Psi organized a pie throwing contest to raise money. A food and clothes drive was also organized where all proceeds were donated to the Red Cross.

Intervarsity organized a sock drive to collect socks for those still in the dark or without shelter.

School wide events included a relief breakfast where Zeta Psi organized a pancake breakfast that lead everyone to Frankie’s and a benefit concert where the Coopertones, CooperNova, Sons of Pitches, President Bharucha and other Cooper musicians preformed.

Grand Staircase Handrail Update

Marcus Michelen (BSE ‘14)

Last year, I spoke with Vice President T.C. Westcott about whether or not there are plans to install a handrail on the Grand Staircase. She confirmed that a handrail was indeed in the works but was not sure when construction would take place. This month, I sat briefly sat down with her again to see where we currently are with these plans.

The Cooper Pioneer: Are we still going to install the handrail?

T.C. Wescott: We are still going install the handrail. The holdup at this point is that we are on the eve of getting the final certificate of occupancy for our new building, and filing new building permits prevents that from happening.

So the way new buildings work is that when you move in you get a temporary certificate of occupancy, which is standard. Actually some buildings that have for a very long time still have only a temporary certificate of occupancy and we don’t want to be in that group.

We’ve renewed our temporary certificate of occupancy as we’ve finish the remaining pieces. You need to close out all your permits, all your applications. Our tenants have to close out all of their applications to do work. Once that happens, the fire department comes in, the building department comes in, everyone comes in to do a final check off. Then you get your final certificate of occupancy. If you have open permits, you can’t get your final certificate of occupancy.

We’re just on the eve of that, so I’m told. Now, the building departments, I’m also told, run on their own time schedule. So we’re waiting to get that final certificate of occupancy so we can begin the work. We have to file the permit. Installing the handrail is a big job, so we have to have a permit.

So that’s the holdup at this point. But we’re still putting it in; it’s just a question of when we finally get our certificate of occupancy. Then we’ll move forward with it.

TCP: Last time we met, you said that Thom Mayne was going to submit a design.

TCW: We actually did get a design from one of the architects at Morphosis and we are working with some engineers and other to make sure we understand how the handrail needs to be installed. It’s a pretty straightforward design. Nothing as creative as some of the handrails I saw in the Pioneer, but consistent with the style with the staircase at this point.

TCP: Approximately when would you say this is going to be installed?

TCW: I shudder to say when at this point. I’d like to be able to say within in the next few weeks, but it’s up to the department of buildings. Once they get through the various things that they’re doing, we’re doing one last thing with the fire department. I’d like to say very soon, but last time I said it was going to be ready to go, I was found to be incorrect. So as soon as we get the certificate of occupancy we will commence work on that. As long as there’s a reasonable break; we can’t have students all over the place when we do it, but we may decide that that may make the most sense.

Budget Cuts: The Computer Center

Caroline Yu (ME ‘15)

As you may have noticed, there has been a significant decrease in number of students working in the Computer Center this semester. In order to find out more information about how the computer center is dealing with Cooper’s financial situation, I spoke to Alexander Erb, Computer Center Student Manager:

The Cooper Pioneer: In general, how is the Computer Center dealing with budget cuts?

Alexander Erb: In a similar fashion to all other departments at school, the computer center received a large budget cut for 2012-2013 academic year. What people might not know is that the computer center’s budget funds many other student work departments around the school as well. We felt strongly that we did not want to cut hours of services in these departments or the hourly wages and raises students receive in all these departments.

This left us only one choice – to cut the amount of shifts for student workers per hour. Since the computer center has the most amount of shifts per hour and all the other departments were running off the minimum number of staff to operate already, the computer center decided to shoulder most of the burden and decrease the number of employees working every hour.

TCP: What has changed and what hasn’t?

AE: Well, some of the obvious changes you see are that we went from as many as 5 operators an hour to one operator for all weekday hours of operation. On weekends now there are no operators regularly working any shift. But one thing people might not have noticed is with these changes, we have had students and full-time staff members generously donate their time and money to maintain the computer center so that it could continue to operate smoothly and so that student morale could be maintained.

One thing you might’ve noticed is that the computer center has been decorated for Halloween. This was paid for by the full-time staff members and has been well received. Many students have volunteered their time to help class mates and full-time staff when they see the computer center is busy. Supervisors and senior student staff members do additional work for free to help keep operations low when they see a chance to improve operations. We are all doing our part and it is nice to see that everyone has kept a positive attitude.

TCP: How much has the Computer Center interacted with President Bharucha, the Board of Trustees, and other administrators?

AE: Just like other departments, our full-time staff and student staff interact with the president’s office and administrators around Cooper on a daily basis. This is for both I.T. help and administration issues. As is the case for most departments at Cooper, the full-time faculty has some, but limited interactions with the board of trustees.

TCP: What has your role been during this time of transition and planning for the future?

AE: This year my role is that of the Student Manager for the Computer Center. I have had to oversee and put into action most of these changes and continue to look for more ways that we can improve our efficiency – that is with respect to my performance as well. I have been fortunate to work with a dedicated staff (students and full-time faculty) who have made all of these transitions go very smoothly.

Face of Cooper: Leonid Vulakh

Caroline Yu (EE ‘15)

Meet Professor Leonid Vulakh – the mathematics professor who everyone from electrical engineering students to physics professors and alumni go to for mathematical clarifications and discussion. Many students love him for his teaching style and quotable statements.

Professor Vulakh is originally from the former Soviet Union in the region that is now Ukraine. He spent most of his time in Moscow where he earned a master’s degree in control science engineering from the Moscow State University. While getting this degree, Professor Vulakh was also pursuing a master’s degree in mathematics at an institute of automation in Moscow. After spending two years in industry after graduation, Vulakh went back into academia at the same institution where he pursued graduate studies. After successfully earning a Ph.D., Professor Vulakh then went to teach at an institution similar to Moscow State University. It was extremely difficult to find a teaching position at a university during this time because of competition – being a professor was a very well-respected occupation.

After immigrating to the United States, Professor Vulakh started teaching at Brooklyn College and Baruch College in 1985. However, he was so disappointed with the student bodies at both colleges that he almost gave up teaching entirely. In 1986, Professor Vulakh came to The Cooper Union as a visiting professor. Professor Vulakh knew Harold Shapiro, a professor at New York University at the time, who in turn knew a professor at Cooper. When Professor Vulakh was offered another year as a visiting professor, he decided to go to St. Johns as a visiting professor first. Professor Vulakh reminisced about this point in his life with a laugh: “Cooper called me back. Students had started asking ‘Where is Professor Vulakh?!’” In 1988, Professor Vulakh became an associate professor at Cooper. He is very happy with his decision. He believes that his students are – and have been – perfect.

Through the years, Professor Vulakh has taught almost all the mathematics courses offered at Cooper. Regarding the importance of teaching students mathematics, Professor Vulakh believes that “[students] need a strong foundation. They need to learn how to work properly.”

Other than Calculus I and II, Professor Vulakh most regularly teaches the discrete mathematics course at Cooper. Back in the Soviet Union, Professor Vulakh wrote a book on discrete mathematics – as well as one on linear algebra. He talked to the mathematics chairmen a few years ago about adding the course. With a smile again, Professor Vulakh commented by saying “since I created the course – I am teaching it.”

Because Cooper is an engineering school, Professor Vulakh strongly believes that the mathematics department has to closely work with other departments in the school. He was involved with updating and revising the calculus curriculum to better coordinate the material taught in Calculus II with other courses such as mechanics.

Other than teaching, Professor Vulakh also leads research. Selected research publications can be seen at Although Professor Vulakh used to be more active in the research field in past years when he attended science conferences every year, he still corresponds with other mathematicians about number theory – his area of expertise. In 2010 alone, he published three papers.

Outside of Cooper and number theory research, Professor Vulakh likes to play chess – as many people do in Russia he says. During the summer, Professor Vulakh very much enjoys swimming and biking – activities he has enjoyed since childhood. Being passionate about everything he does seems to be the trend; Professor Vulakh takes pride in always being there for professors and students: “I help students who need help. I am always available! I give them advice when I teach them. They need to spend a lot of time working. If you want to succeed you have to work – no matter how talented you are.”