Dr. Gopalakrishnan says that when she and 11 junior faculty members founded The Steam Factory in 2012, their goal was to create a grass-roots network of faculty, post-docs, and other like-minded professors across Ohio State to engage in creative and interdisciplinary collaboration, innovation, and dissemination of science.
“When we started, we were just trying to have fun and meet other researchers from across the university,” said Gopalakrishnan. "It really did not feel like service or work really."
The network has grown organically from 12 founding faculty members to over 220 members, representing 65 departments, and 34 Centers/Institutes/Programs across 13 colleges. It also offers various programs and outreach to the community beyond the university.
The physical space, located in downtown Franklinton, alongside innovators in arts and technology, provides space for scholars to engage with the broader Columbus community through a research-based, informal outreach program such as a monthly, salon-style seminar series, called "STEAM Exchanges. Then there are the Franklinton Fridays, monthly open houses where other artists, vendors, and Franklinton residents offer open presentations and interactive activities by STEAM faculty members in a variety of interesting and engaging formats. The Columbus Science Pub has been dedicated to hosting speakers from across the fields of scientific study at no charge to the public.
For faculty, membership offers a host of benefits: training in how to engage with a broad public audience, development of community and industry partner relationships and new methods for displaying, visualizing, and disseminating research, Feedback on publicly funded research, and opportunities for enhanced cross-faculty interaction, engagement and research collaboration.
Efforts continue to expand. A recent collaborative project brought together The STEAM Factory, OHI/O Informal Learning in Tech Program and Center of Science and Industry COSI was awarded $1.2M from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) Program to develop an informal learning program that advances innovative and creative STEM learning through convergent collaborative communication. Ohio State’s College of Arts and Science and University Libraries are also part of this collaboration. The funded project will connect and prepare researchers from divergent disciplines to creatively and effectively communicate science to public audiences of all ages and evaluate learning outcomes in multiple informal learning settings.
“When the average American citizen spends less than five percent of their life in classrooms, significant learning occurs largely outside formally structured environments,” said Gopalakrishnan. “The need for public interactions with new and cutting-edge research, technology, and discoveries, in informal settings is significant.”
Gopalakrishnan added that a cultural shift toward collaborative problem-solving and divergent thinking from multiple perspectives by both society and academic institutions is crucial.
Sathya Gopalakrishnan 614-292-2853
View the video of Sathya learning about the award: