Thursday, August 15, 2013

Managing a big project

As I mentioned in a previous post, we were awarded a team grant to study smart morphing materials.  This project, once in full swing, will most likely bring together a couple dozen people, including scientists, engineers, materials scientists, mathematicians, artists, educators, and teachers.  There are several overlapping subgroups of people working on various aspects of this project, and I need to be involved in it all.

I am dedicating all day today to getting this project up and running.  First, I need to get everyone connected so that each person sees his or her individual role in the project and how each person's work fits in with the whole.  Each team member must learn the expertise available to them from other team members and outside collaborators.  A bottom up approach is the most effective, but for this to effectively come together, the initial conditions need to be set.

This morning, I sent out an email to team members that read,

Dear All,

 I am writing here to the full team in preparation for our meeting on Thursday at 10:00am PDT.  I am asking that all co-PIs add to the "Team Members and Responsibilities" file in the shared DropBox folder BY THIS FRIDAY AFTERNOON.  Being on the East coast, [Member 1], perhaps you can start the process since your day is almost over.  After you are done, please let  [Member 2] and  [Member 3] know it is their turn.  If you have not yet identified students/postdocs, you can pass on this step for now.  We can add them as they join the project.

Next is the more tricky part.  After the team member file is done, I would like everyone, at least on the technical part of the project - including student/postdocs, to invite each other to their "Circles" on Google+.  To do so, all of you will need to open a (free) Google+ account first.  I want to get this over with ASAP.  For the technical meetings, we may need to run two parallel Google Hangouts (one for video) and one for slides/documents.  If all team members have an account, this will allow us the flexibility of having at least two available accounts and computers at each site.  It also will help us to deal with computer problems.  And since we want to encourage lots of interactions between various subsets of the full team, getting us all interconnected is a good start.

I'll send out a an agenda well before the meeting.


There are lots of  individual issues that come up with each team member.  This morning, the well-known wire artist and team member Elizabeth Berrian brought up several ideas and had additional administrative questions.  The excerpt, below, from my email response shows all of the wonderful ideas that this project is generating.

Hi, Elizabeth,

No need to apologize for making contact with me.  I enjoy new ideas, perhaps to excess!  I apologize for my tardy response.  My emails tend to back up as I work on absolute deadlines, so sometimes it may take a day or two for me to respond.

Glad to hear that you are getting back to thinking about hinges and making wire structures that have the capability of motion.  You bring up several interesting points.

 Your musings remind me of how recent developments in Oragami have taken off exponentially when the constraints of the process were translated into mathematical terms.  Rather than showing its limitations, the mathematics revealed huge new realms of what was possible; and perhaps most significantly, provided a guide as to how to implement new structures, unleashing a new wave of creativity.

 Your activities and proposals give me several ideas of how we can proceed.  It may be interesting to get a mathematician or theorist to be involved in the process.  First is the question of the basic elements.  They appear to be what I would call a "knot" which can't move, a loop around a wire which can slide, etc.  In more complex structures, the way things are arranged, even without "knots" can make it rigid and immovable.  It may be interesting to try to break the problem into basic elements.  There is lots of work in topology that does exactly this, so bringing this to bare on the problem might be quite fruitful and fascinating.

 Origami works under the constraint of using a single sheet.  Similarly, our technology requires a single strand of fiber that caries light without interruption.  As such, it would be interesting to try to understand how this constraint plays out in the kinds of structures that can be made.  Optical fibers have the additional constraint that bends radii must exceed some minimum value.   Finally, there is the connection between origami and wire art.  For our purposes, we need to understand how sheets can be folded onto a wire structure so that the underlying support, when activated photo-mechanically, can make the whole structure move in interesting and useful ways.

I would like to start working with the simplest structures to develop a better intuition about the important ingredients for various functions.  It might be useful if you could make some rudimentary wire structures on a small scale that exhibit the basic elements, and then combine elements to see how they work together.  This could guide us in the types of fiber that we make in the future and the types of applications that we target.  Also, these activities could directly impact the development of educational modules that teach both simple concepts, such as coordinates in 3D space and geometry, to more sophisticated concepts such as topology.  It is thus important that we document everything as meticulously as possible.  I will try to set up several dropbox folders so that we can share this information seamlessly.
I will eventually set up individual meetings with the three of us, then larger meetings with various subsets of the full group.  I prefer Google hangout, so in addition to Skype, it would be useful if you could join Google+ (its free).  Note that my priority this week is to get the technical collaboration running, which involves coordinating about a dozen people.  This needs to be set in motion before our new semester starts next week, which will add additional burdens.  So, it may be a few more days before I get around to contacting you again.  Of course, never hesitate to contact me.  I always welcome ideas.
Looking forward to experiencing all the great things that this collaboration will generate.

Below is an example of the exquisite wire art of Elizabeth Berrian.

No comments:

Post a Comment