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While the subject of STEM education has attracted nationwide attention, another new and innovative concept has quickly emerged from this movement: STEAM education. This model builds on what we already understand about STEM by incorporating "Art+Design" to produce creative solutions to everyday problems.

STEAM education blends the arts and sciences, which historically have been taught as separate and almost dueling fields, in an integrated fashion. Why? Early adopters and pioneers of STEAM education see art and design education as the anchor future innovators need to succeed in evolving fields, including engineering, architecture, healthcare and technology. Apple, maker of the ever-popular iPhone, is a gleaming example of finding success at the cross-section between art and science.

Don't buy it? An oft-cited study, published in the Journal of the Psychology of Science and Technology in 2008, suggests artistic capabilities may be associated with scientific success.

Various investigators have proposed that “scientific geniuses” are polymaths. To test this hypothesis, auto­ biographies, biographies, and obituary notices of Nobel Prize winners in the sciences, members of the Royal Society, and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences were read and adult arts and crafts avocations tabulated. Data were compared with a 1936 avocation survey of Sigma Xi members and a 1982 survey of arts avocations among the U.S. public. Nobel laureates were significantly more likely to engage in arts and crafts avocations than Royal Society and National Academy of Sciences members, who were in turn significantly more likely than Sigma Xi members and the U.S. public. Scientists and their biographers often commented on the utility of their avocations as stimuli for their science. The utility of arts and crafts training for scientists may have important public policy and educational implications in light of the marginalization of these subjects in most curricula.

Although little more is known about the connection between artistic capabilities and scientific achievement (read: "correlation does not imply causation"), the potential for such a symbiotic relationship can't be ignored. Just look at some of history's greatest scientists: Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Hildegard von Bingen.

Schools are buying into this concept in increasing numbers. Rhode Island School of Design has been at the forefront of the "STEM to STEAM" movement, and other schools are taking RISD's lead. (See here, here and here.) 

STEAM has also gained traction beyond classroom walls. Last year, Congress formed the Congressional STEAM Caucus, which "will host briefings and advocate for policy changes that will encourage educators to integrate arts, broadly defined, with traditional Science, Technology, Engineering and Math curriculum."

Many non-profit groups and inspired individuals are also dedicated to elevating the discourse around art+science. Imagine Science Films seeks to bridge the gap between science and film, “ultimately making science accessible and stimulating to a broader audience.” Since its inception in 2008, ISF has hosted an annual film festival that celebrates some of the best science communication and film projects. Similarly, ArtLab, founded by PhD candidate Maryam Zaringhalam, provides a platform for scientists and artists to collaborate and converse in physical and virtual spaces. And here on campus, UChicago boasts its own Arts|Science Initiative. The program allows graduate students and faculty across disciplines to collaborate on projects, such as “The Chromochord,” a musical biosensor that allows viewers to hear and see proteins reacting to light, and “An Artistic Collision,” a series of paintings depicting the collision of subatomic particles.

All of this is super exciting and inspiring, and we can’t wait to see how STEAM will impact students and their communities over the long term. Have you seen any examples of stellar STEAM projects or curricula? Share in the comments below!

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