Opticks, 2016

A photograph of Opticks by Beth Nybecks.Year Installed: 2016
Artist: Beth Nybeck
Materials: Stainless Steel and Aluminum
Dimensions: 23’ by 14’ by 16’
Location: East of Engineering Hall
Latitude & Longitude:
39°42’47.1″N 75°07’14.2″W

Named for the book Opticks, a 1704 treatise on the effects of light by Isaac Newton, this stainless steel and aluminum sculpture represents a human head. The design is intended to reflect the ever-changing quest for, and acquisition of, knowledge. To extend this symbolism and its relevance to engineering studies, artist Beth Nybeck collected notebook pages from Rowan University engineering students and used their handwritten formulas and equations in the sculpture. “A lot of my work over the last three years has had an interactive quality,” said Nybeck, the artist whose public art is installed at venues across the United States.

Nybeck designed “Opticks” with stainless steel tubing and aluminum panels so viewers can walk up and into the sculpture. Nybeck said she studied Rowan University and in particular, the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering, in formulating her design. “All of my projects are site-specific,” she said. “I researched the space, the history, the students, what is most important to the College and what speaks highly of them. For this project, I wanted to collaborate with students and professors in the making of the piece.”

The result: aluminum panels that partially clad the geometric head’s surfaces are laser carved with equations and notes from Rowan University students and faculty. To achieve this effect, Nybeck scanned hand-written materials into a computer and used a laser cutting tool to reproduce them on the metal sheets. Nybeck said the sculpture was designed to let light and air pass through but also to represent the flowing, ever-changing nature of thought.

“The overall theme is the idea of intellect being shaped or formed,” she said. “The College of Engineering has various disciplines, but all seem to work toward something being built or created. I thought a lot about how, in the early stages of this building, you could see its bones, its skeleton. And then I thought about what it would look like if you took the idea of bones and foundations and correlated it to intellect.”