The Lybbaverse / the-california-endowment  

Schools of thought: Lybba examines STEM education

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Policy makers agree that STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education should be a top priority in American schools, but we are just beginning to discover the best ways to integrate STEM into existing curricula. Lybba is actively collaborating with thought leaders in STEM education to both shape the conversation and directly impact students.
 
Most recently, Lybba collaborated with The California Endowment, The California Biotechnology Foundation, and Wondros, to create the first Biohackathon event for high school students in Los Angeles. The Biohackathon event spotlighted educators who are making science exciting to a new generation of students and most importantly, it generated awareness about careers in biotechnology among students who may not have considered such a path. Other STEM initiatives are underway all over the country, and educators working hard to address questions with exciting implications for students and our future economy: 
 
  • How can we ensure that STEM education translates into real jobs? 
  • Which influencers are doing the best job of making science, technology, engineering and math compelling to students from all walks of life?
  • What STEM success stories have we seen so far and how can scale them?

In a series of upcoming blog posts, Lybba will explore these questions and more. We will examine the current state of STEM education and spotlight some of the innovators who are making STEM accessible to students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. We’ll also look at STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) and spotlight some of the fascinating work being done at the intersection of art and science. 
 
We invite you to share your thoughts about STEM education as our series continues. What aspect of STEM would you like us to cover here?

Our favorite photos from Biohackathon L.A. 2013

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We're so happy to share these photos from Biohackathon L.A. 2013! Students from L.A.'s Promise Manual Arts High School proved science is cool, and learned about cross-disciplinary opportunities in the life sciences while genotyping themselves. Stay tuned for our series on biodesign, STEM, and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math education), coming up in April!

What’s in a hexabox?

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The California Endowment, the California Biotechnology Foundation, Lybba, and Wondros presented Biohackathon L.A. 2013, an immersive workshop to inspire students about the health and career benefits of STEM education and the life sciences. On behalf of the biohackathon hosts, the principals of design firm CITY/hall fabricated take-home kits for the students—“hexaboxes” that were informed by the experiment contained within them. Lybba is immensely pleased to present this interview with CITY/hall co-founders Jessica D’Elena and Lauren Rosenbloom, to learn more about them and the making of the hexaboxes.

How did the CITY/hall come about?

We've been collaborating since 2007 while Jessica was part of designer Lorraine Wild's Green Dragon Office and Lauren was working with Thom Mayne's Morphosis Architects. Jessica was Green Dragon's lead designer on the fifth installment of the Morphosis monographs and Lauren was her counterpart at Morphosis office. It was this project collaboration that shed light on our mutual interests. Jessica's focus is on graphic and environmental design, while Lauren's is on architecture, art direction, and set design for film. Synergized, they form our multi-disciplinary adventures within the design community. 

What inspired the creation of the hexaboxes for Biohackathon L.A. 2013?

A “recurring curiosity” within CITY/hall efforts is situated in the meaning and metaphor of the building blocks of design—more specifically, between the shared constructs of disciplines (such as biology and graphic design). Fascinated by the canons of design history and flirting with perspectives around the mapping of a human biotechnological future, we see our investigations as forming microcosmic elements to shape a macrocosmic picture. The spirit and intent of Biohackathon L.A. 2013 presented us with the perfect platform to continue this investigation.

The graphic language that emerged from the event's premise implied a visual conversation that human bodies (and others) are "designed" frameworks and conversely, "design frameworks" are living entities with a biological code—both derived from a set of basic forms whose exponential combinations produce an infinite number of unique identities. The letterform and the building have an embedded DNA, as the human DNA sequence are the blueprints for a biological construct. 

Bauhaus thought-leaders deconstructed all design frameworks into the elementary forms: circles, squares, and triangles—the celebrated starting points of art, design and architecture. So too, "bodies" have a building code in the two basic sugars and four enzymes of DNA.

To subtly acknowledge this relationship we determined the container for the biohackathon take-home kit would be six-sided, alluding to the basic building blocks of life itself. From here, the necessary components of the kit seemed to place themselves. An extruded hexagonal shape allowed us to place the pipettor down the center of the box, physically acting as the spine of the structure. The length of the pipettor dictated the height of the box, which allowed us to include five interior hexagonal shaped shelves for the remaining kit materials. 

How were they made, and were there any constraints or special considerations in their creation?

Shelves one and two included six hexagon-shaped coasters (which we've dubbed hexacoasters), which featured illustrated instructions for the students to continue their experiments independently after the workshop concluded. Each coaster also featured various iterations of the graphical language system we had composed for all of the printed matter.

Including a die-cut slit in each of the hexacoasters allowed students to create unique molecular sculptures by inserting the coasters into one another. This, along with the event poster, became a kind of semi-permanent artifact from the event that would remain with the students after the event concluded. 

The third shelf held the six 3cm petri dishes also provided for students to continue their experimentation post-event. Shelf four contained agar powder, and shelf five contained an array of graphical stickers the kids could use to decorate any surface or specifically to place on the lids of their petri dishes.

The graphical branding system developed for the event came literally out of a process of orchestrating, combining, and arranging the basic shapes of design—circles, squares, triangles—and "sequencing" them together in patterns to create an array of biological snowflakes, each entirely unique in its complexity and systematic design, yet all comprised from a basic set of common elements. When placed on the transparent lids of the petri dishes, a wonderful visual conversation about “what’s growing inside” begins to emerge. 

Was the poster similarly inspired?

While the kit, its contents, and all printed matter work as a cohesive system, the poster takes these ideas a step further to include the specificity of the city (in this instance, Los Angeles) as a systematic body made up of a basic set of building blocks and design elements.

We positioned the skyline of the city on the poster to geo-locate the event but oriented the photo on its side. This not only allows viewers, for a moment, to see the city as one would see a representation of a DNA sequence (via the building surface forms, contrasts in shadow, varying building heights, etc.), but it also visually echoes the columns of text on the opposite side of the poster, also intended as a lead-in to the graphical look at a DNA sequence. 

We used a CMYK color palette for obvious reasons: the four primary "enzymes" from which all possible printed colors are derived. In both the title text and DNA graphical snowflakes, the overlay effect of these primary colors reiterates the monochrome from which all plurality and complexity arise. 

The cartography of health: making an annual report that maps ‘healthy communities’

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To showcase the progress The California Endowment (TCE) has made in the last year with regards to its many initiatives, Lybba designed an interactive Annual Report in close collaboration with TCE and our filmmaking partner, Wondros.

The report combines numerical data and hard facts with narrative storytelling in the form of short films that allow visitors to explore TCE's work in neighborhoods, schools, and prevention. A playful, interactive map composed of simple shapes, reminiscent of paper cut-outs, loosely represents one of TCE's 14 communities, which are part of a 10-year comprehensive initiative—Building Healthy Communities.

The map invites visitors to explore each of the three big campaigns—Schools, Neighborhoods, and Prevention—as well as the primary drivers behind each of the campaigns. Layers of information unfold as visitors discover stories from children, adults, partners, and community leaders who are all part of the journey to better health.

TCE is a private, statewide foundation dedicated to expanding access to affordable healthcare in low-income neighborhoods and improving the overall health of all Californians. Their primary message—Health Happens Here—drives the work they do in communities across California. Health happens in schools, neighborhoods, and with prevention.

Within each of these three areas, TCE is changing the way people think about health: from helping thousands of uninsured children and adults find affordable healthcare coverage to building a micro-enterprise fund to support youth entrepreneurs.