Materials in a
Circular Economy

WEEK #1:
Who are we? What can we do?
September 03, 2019

Week #1 Videos

this semester. Let's make them count.

To begin...

Welcome to MATERIALS IN A CIRCULAR ECONOMY! This is a graduate level course of study at The Cooper Union on the impacts of materials, processes, and forms. It will consist of contemporary research on responsible design. We will consider how material properties, extraction, processing, and end-of-life reuse impact intraplanetary systems. Moreover, we will work together to offer the fruit of our labor in the public forum (in all sorts of fun ways) and allow the product of our efforts to steer the course of the materials economy. (How exciting!?)

We come from diverse backgrounds and education experiences and we all have an important voice to add to the conversation. We'll start where we are and ask: Who am I? and What can I do? This will help us get to know each other and understand the strengths and limitations of our group.

Each week we'll approach a topic and ask: What hurts? How can we help? and What do we need to know? These will be the central questions guiding our home work, as we each set out to research "what we need to know" in order to help. We'll collect our reports and come together to figure our "how we can help" whatever we decided hurts.

What are we doing?

Over the next 15 weeks we will explore the climate crisis on planet earth through the impact of the materials economy. Our goal will be nothing short of changing the course of human activity. We will use our time to both develop tools to jumpstart our communities and networks into action while also setting the support structures on which to build our own individual life's work. To this dual end, we will collective engage in weekly reporting and problem-solving exercises as well as individually formulating and researching a semester-long thesis. The expectation is to produce something to communicate a research-based idea about the materials economy into the world at large.

Particulars and deliverables

Our home work will consist of a minimum of 2-3 hours of reading and reporting on various topics to support our weekly problem solving. A minumum of 1-2 hours should be devoted to working on your thesis.

Grading will be on an individual basis, with the reconginition that some students will feel inclined to work more than the minumum hours. This is appreciated and highly encouraged, but all that is required for sucess in this course is weekly engagement with the in-class exercises, submittal of weekly reports, continued progress exploring a semester-long thesis, and an end-of-course presentation and report.

Participants will work individually, in small pods, large groups, and as an entire class. Learning will be democratic, with an open, friendly, and intense debate about the meaning of terms, inherent assumptions, importance of metrics, and relevancy to the task at hand.

Students are expected to participate weekly in discussions and be prepared to discuss their home work readings and research in-depth.

Weekly reports will be due each week on Sunday night and be made available shortly thereafter for everyone to study. This is in prepartion for our weekly problem-solving session, where we will work to forumlate a consesnus and vote on a recommended course of action. Reports can be written, visual, or in any format which can be digitized and easily made available to the other participants (i.e. uploaded or linked from a website). Reports are expected to be engaging and thoughtful and can even be fun, but should always be substantive, well researched, and referenced to supporting materials.

It is clear we cannot simply sit in a bubble and design our way out of our collective planetary mess. To be effective, we will always be considering how to continue the conversation. Seeding new ideas within ourselves, our profesional and social networks, our families, our neighborhoods and our communities small and large is a main theme of this course. You are expected to prepare detailed reports of your findings each week, always considering how best to communicate your message to the intended audiences.

The impact of human activity on planet earth must be studied, understood, and guided in a more positive direction. Our job together is to study, understand and define that positive direction for the materials economy.

Thank you for your time and attention. We have 45 hours remaining together

Home Work #1
Who are we? What can we do?
09/03 through 09/10
(Prep for Week No. 2 - Case study: Digital versus physical media)

Submit work to as PDF attachements or for large files, as links to something on the internet by Sunday 9/8 at 11:59PM.

NOTE: Your proposals, recommendations, and reports for items #3, #4 and #6 below will be distributed to your peers for review.

  1. Prepare a short written statement of your intentions for this course.
  2. Identify (3) strengths and (3) weaknesses in your capacities to help in this field.
  3. Propose (15) ideas for thesis topics. (Have fun with this!)
  4. Consider the Weekly topics and recommend (3) alternatives as well as which topics you might remove. Justify your choices.
  5. Read, annotate, and be prepared to discuss:
  6. Research prepare a detailed report of your recommendation and come to class prepared to workshop this idea in small pods and as a class.
    • TOPIC: Which is a more optimal solution for distribution of reading materials in EID/ME416:
                         (A) Everyone procures their own physical copies
                         (B) We all share some number of course reading copies
                         (C) Everyone receive physical reproductions each week
                         (D) Everyone accesses shared digital files on their personal internet gateways
                         (E) Some other alternative...
    • GUIDELINES: Your report should inclued an estimatation of the full lifecycle material costs (materials consumed in process, used in infrastructure and tooling, burned as energy, etc.) of physical paper vs digital files. • Begin your analysis at the point when someone conceives of the manufacture of a computer, thinks to start a paper selling business, etc. and continue to the moment when the material is permanently waste or completely returned to a natural state. • Consider home many people are serviced by the business, manufacture, etc. and economies of scale as well as the effectiveness of the medium (e.g. which method are people are more likely to remember information?). • Consider how many human work hours are spent for each solution as well as who (race, class, job, etc.) is spending that time. • Consider second order effects (e.g. I can gift this object to one special person/group versus I can post this content on social media; it has my handwriting in it versus I remixed it; it brings me joy to hold versus it brings me joy to always have access to it in the cloud, etc.) • Define, assume, characterize, and parameterize in any way you see fit. • Have fun with it, go down a few research rabbit holes, take good notes to share, and when all else fails, make an informed assumption and move on. • Spend enough time on this to explore each of these ideas, but recognize this could take years to understand, and we'll be giving it hours.
  7. MONDAY after 9AM - Review the work of your peers and come to class ready to discuss with questions and recommendations. This includes both the analysis and the full list of thesis proposals