Tuesday, September 25, 2012

20 Minutes with Frankie Flood, #IJTC2012 Keynote

In this interview, we spend some time with Frankie Flood, the 2012 International Joint Tribology Conference Keynote, who will speak on Material, Form and Function: The Art of Tribology. Click here for more information about his keynote address.

How were you first introduced to tribology? How did you get into this field? I was introduced to the formal field of tribology by a engineering colleague at my University. But I was introduced to tribology as a real world application as a young boy when I rebuilt my first combustion engine. Since then my knowledge of the field of tribology has grown through my personal research. Using machine tools to create my artistic work as well as teaching industrial processes and methodologies to my students as ways of creating new designs, ideas, and objects has lead to interesting investigations into tribology.

Did anyone inspire you, or serve as your mentor? If so, who? I have had several mentors that have helped me achieve my professional goals and helped me navigate the institution, but the largest inspiration has been my parents in supporting my interests as a child and encouraging me to follow my academic interests. My talk will discuss some of my early experiences which helped guide me to this point.

What led you to teaching? I was fortunate enough to have several teachers throughout my life that encouraged me to pursue my interests in the academic setting. These same teachers were passionate about what it was that they taught and practiced. I remember being enthralled by the knowledge and experience that they had and how exciting it was to learn new things from them. The sharing of knowledge is at the core of human existence and I can’t think of any other profession that I would rather be a part of. Seeing my students eyes light up when there is a moment of discovery and getting to pursue the things that I am passionate about makes my job the best in the world.

What is a typical work day like for you and what do you enjoy most? I teach three studio courses in Art & Design (Jewelry and Metalsmithing specifically) per semester so every other day is a complete day of teaching from 8:00 am to 6:30 pm. Our studio courses are two and half hours long and usually involve several demonstrations on metal working techniques and hands on lab based work. The days that I am not teaching are usually filled with meetings with graduate students/faculty meetings/ and time developing UWM’s new Digital Craft Research Lab. I usually reserve part of Friday and Saturday for time in my personal studio to develop my own work and research.

The thing I enjoy most about my job is the fact that it centers around the act of learning.  I feel that it is important to cultivate the idea of becoming a lifelong learner. I really enjoy the interactions with my students. Being able to work in a collaborative environment with students who are actively engaged in solving design or technical problems makes me look forward to my daily routine. It is such a privilege for me to be able to learn from these interactions as well. I also enjoy my personal time in my studio as this is time for me to experiment and test different ideas with a hands on approach to design, material, and technique.

Why do you study metallurgy and tribology? What’s the link for you between these fields and art? My interest in machines started at an early age. I was always interested in how things worked and when I was introduced to the field of metalsmithing I was hooked. The techniques of metalworking always relied on a basic scientific knowledge of what was happening when you “worked” the metal. The challenge of knowing what is happening to a material as you work with it is still something that intrigues me and that I utilize in the creation of my ideas, work, and research. The link between metallurgy and tribology with the field of art is understanding material, design, and function

Pizza cutter made for
Bravo's Top Chef, Mike Isabella

Where do your project ideas come from? What’s your inspiration? My project ideas usually come from some kind of technical exploration or a need to express an idea about a certain topic. The investigation of learning about how machines “work” and the ideas of function have always been topics of interest. I am inspired by the objects that we surround ourselves with in our daily lives, and the routines, rituals, and leisure that we engage in with these objects. These objects and their function shape our world and define us and that is such an interesting source of inspiration to me.
What kinds of materials do you use? Why these materials? I primarily utilize metal (specifically 6061/6062 aluminum) for most of my creations, but also utilize plastics and composites in the creation of my work. Aluminum has always been a metal of choice for me due to it low weight, ability to be colored via anodizing, workability, etc. It is easy to machine and this allows for a wide range of surfaces to be developed into a object. Aluminum has also always been a metal used primarily in industry and so many of my pieces are responses to the mass produced objects of industry.
What comes first: the project design or the material? Does the choice of material influence your design? The project design and function always dictates material choice. That said, the materials that I utilize always have meaning and therefore cannot be divorced from the thought behind a piece.

Flood in his studio, next to his pizza cutter designs
How do you determine when a project is finished?   A project is finished when it has been completed to a level that I am content with in terms of final finish (aka. craftsmanship), function, design, and design intent. If any one of these are not up to my personal standard then the piece is not considered complete.
How do you encourage innovative thinking among your students or colleagues? I try to encourage innovative thinking in my classroom by asking my students to design without limitations and to ask themselves “what if...?”. If we only use the techniques, materials, and procedures we already know then we are limited and not exploring “what could be”. I ask my students to dream big and then together, as a group, we will solve the issues or barriers that keep us from doing what we set out to do. There is no barrier too large that can’t be solved and often the limitations that you are faced with will force you to solve the problem in creative and innovative ways. I also stress the importance of “making” or prototyping. Working with a material and seeing how things react informs the design and problem solving process as well as future knowledge. There is no substitute for the hands on approach to learning.
What should other researchers take away from your approach/methods? Generating ideas is at the center of solving problems and creating innovative solutions, but the creative process also involves testing, making, responding, and remaking. I hope to encourage researchers to embrace making, current technology and do it yourself ingenuity. Increasing the ability of our students to problem solve through their knowledge of material, design, and function will have a large impact on the ideas and objects that are developed in the future and will lead to new jobs and fields of study.
You'll have a chance to meet Frankie at the 2012 IJTC, which will be held October 8-10, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. Click here for more information or to register for the conference. If you have any questions for him, feel free to pose them in the comments below.

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