Though the understanding has mostly been debunked, you'll still hear people say that they're "left-brained" or "right-brained." What they really mean to say is that they perceive themselves to be more analytical and methodical, or artistic and intuitive, respectively and distinctively. But there is an intersection between the two sides – the corpus callosum, or the band of nerve fibers that join the two hemispheres of the brain and allow them to interact.
Corpus Callosum (CoCa), an organization associated with the Viterbi School of Engineering, exists as that juncture at USC, inviting students from all schools and majors to collaborate on projects without the thematic restraints they might otherwise face in class. Tonight, they'll host "Corpus Callosum Presents: The Technical Elements," their spring semester showcase where nine groups will display their creations.
"We have some really awesome projects this semester, definitely more technical than we've seen before," said Lea Fang, co-president of CoCa. "We have a generative art piece, where the viewer stands in front of an Xbox Kinect and waves their hand in front of it, and in doing so, sees lightning bolts flash across the screen. It's completely coded by our members to give you a Zeus-like experience, where you get to shoot lightning bolts from your hands."
Fang has been involved with CoCa since her sophomore year and has always been interested in working with artists from outside of her science major. Now a senior, Fang has watched the organization and the quality of each semester's projects grow and develop.
"Each semester, we have a very good mix of technical versus large sculpture projects," Fang said. "We have groups that just want to build something really awesome, and then we have groups that really want to hone in on their coding skills or gain new experience, either in 3-D printing or using the Fab Lab [a fabrication laboratory that has computer-controlled tools that let you make most anything] or doing something more technical like learning SOLIDWORKS."
While Fang said that in past semesters students have generally focused on using the skills they came into the organization with, many members are gaining new skills this semester.
"That's why we named it 'The Technical Elements.' However, there are definitely some really awesome sculptures that'll be involved, like a giant inflatable seahorse and a paper crane made out of tiny paper cranes that hopefully flaps its wings – didn't get an update on that one yet."
Because the organization lives within Viterbi, the majority of participants are engineering students interested in creating products that are more aesthetically beautiful and functional than they can build in their classes. Still, many students bring experience from various disciplines and schools like Roski, Marshall, Annenberg and the School of Cinematic Arts. At the start of each semester, students are invited to apply, and once accepted, are grouped by interest areas. From there, they collaborate and are given financial and technical support by the organization.
"CoCa's projects change from semester to semester, though a few are actually year-long endeavors, so the entire semester is geared toward [tonight's] event," said Megan Hansford, co-president of CoCa. "Project teams begin with brainstorming what they'd like to accomplish by the end of the semester, and then dedicate time each week to make the idea tangible."
According to Fang, this time can range from a few hours a week to several hours a day toward the end of the semester, as the showcase approaches. They put in all of this work, said Hansford, because of their commitment to the idea that the artistic and scientific realms do not exclude one another.
"Every member in CoCa whole-heartedly believes that there is room for art within the technological and science fields, and vice versa," Hansford said. "We believe division between the two fields is arbitrary, and that to deny that they interact is to deny a large component of each. Where art and technology and science can come together, they have the ability to create social change because we live in a world dependent on both – and when they intersect, they demonstrate the power that construction can have in a deconstruction-focused society."
One CoCa group's project – created in collaboration with another organization, Design for America, that will continue into next year – centers around immigration in Los Angeles and uses virtual reality and data visualization to create an "immersive expository documentary experience to encourage empathy for immigrants and to turn that empathy into tangible action," according to Hansford.
Amanda Lok, freshman in the Iovine and Young Academy, has worked with her team to design an aeroponic system they call "The Botany Box," which grows plants without using soil, uses artificial intelligence and sensors to water the plant roots when needed, and lives inside a retro television set as its base.
Other projects on display tonight include two music visualizers and an exhibit on wearable technology, in the form of a necklace that can ward off mosquitos.
"I think it's really cool to see members who are from completely different majors form a project team and learn to communicate across fields," Fang said. "In aiming to create a project that intersects art and technology, I think they have to think really creatively and think outside the box, since you really are making something from scratch that nobody has ever done before and coming up with your own ideas and using technology in a new way. That can be really beneficial for both artists and engineers to get a taste of what the other field has the capacity to do."
For Lok, that intersection of the fields is crucial for product design and for the world.
"You need art for technology to be desirable," Lok said. "And you need technology for art to be feasible."
Her team, alongside the other eight, will showcase their aeroponic system at 7 p.m. at the USC University Club.