A years-long unexpected partnership between a University of Iowa chemist and a family of artists in Iowa City led a training discussion Wednesday for Iowa high school teachers about the intersections between art, science, engineering and technology.
When Leslie Flynn came to Iowa City a few years ago as an assistant professor of science education, she was not familiar with the printmaking art of the late UI professor emeritus Mauricio Lasansky. She eventually met with some of Lasanky's children and grandchildren — who are continuing in the family business — and soon discovered that there was a lot of science and technology involved with the process of traditional printmaking.
The family of artists can create most of the supplies they need by themselves but they were having trouble obtaining the ingredients needed to create Dutch mordant — an acid mixture used for etching on copper plates.
When she looked up the ingredients, which included hydrochloric acid and potassium chlorate, she understood immediately how dangerous it could be if mixed incorrectly.
Flynn offered to make the mixture herself that year. The next year, she had her graduate students work with her to make it. This year, however, she had some of the adult-age grandchildren of the Lasansky family work with her to make gallons of it in the family studio.
That's when she realized the Lasansky family had a unique perspective to share about innovation and entrepreneurialism — about the science and technology involved with creating specialty tools, operating large printers and building a customized four-story studio space.
She asked family members to take part in this year's STEM Innovator program, which is offered jointly by the UI College of Education and the Jacobson Institute for Youth Entrepreneurship. The professional development program brings high school teachers from across Iowa to help them explore new ways to encourage their students to think about science and innovation.
About 10 of the 89 participating teachers in this year's program spent more than an hour Wednesday touring Tomás Lasansky's studio.
“I have physics, science and engineering teachers, as well as some art teachers,” Flynn said. “They are going to be focused on figuring out the STEM of what (the Lasanskys) are doing, and the Lasanskys are going to help us figure out how that process of innovation works in the arts.”