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Heroes For The Renaissance Engineer: Leonardo, Nabokov, Bach And Borodin

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.539.1 - 6.539.13

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Diana Dabby

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1661

Heroes for the Renaissance Engineer: Leonardo, Nabokov, Bach, and Borodin

Diana Dabby Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering


Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering has attracted a student applicant pool gifted in science, mathematics, and the creative arts (theater, music, writing, and the fine arts). These burgeoning Renaissance engineers, already used to multitasking their various talents, fully expect to continue their interests in college, perhaps augmenting them as well. Dual talents in art and science regularly manifest themselves on the class lists of virtually all educators in science, mathematics, and engineering. Is it possible to offer them models for living and working — heroes — whose inimitable contributions to society stem in part from dual (and sometimes dueling) passions? This paper examines individuals who possessed extraordinary ability in the arts, mathematics, and science. It explores how their creative voices achieved resonance for generations, how at times their disciplines entwined, while at others they separated. Source documents provide the key focus for analysis and critical thought revolving about four figures in the fields of literature, art, and music: Vladimir Nabokov (writer and lepidopterist), Leonardo da Vinci (artist and anatomist), Alexander Borodin (composer and chemist), and J. S. Bach (composer, performer, and acoustician). Each of these achieved a profound self-sufficiency enabling the articulation and activation of work that revealed a singular vision; in short, an entrepreneurial streak runs through their lives, fueled by individuality and remarkable originality — an originality shaped in part by fluency in art and science. Engineering schools, long fond of pointing out the Renaissance engineers in their midst, might augment their support of such students and faculty by sponsoring classes that speak to these multitalented individuals, offering them mirrors for reflection and growth.

I. Introduction

Literature, Art, Music: Intersections with Science represents one such class. By introducing students to V. Nabokov (1899-1977), Leonardo (1452-1519), Johann Sebastian Bach (1685- 1750), and A. Borodin (1833-1887), the class effectively provides mentors for the Renaissance engineer. It further demonstrates the power of "speaking two languages" and the inventiveness that can emanate from a deep understanding of two fields. This inventiveness manifests itself in Nabokov’s literary and scientific design, Leonardo’s pioneering work in comparative anatomy, Bach’s invention of new instruments with desired acoustical properties, and Borodin’s ability to juggle his work in music composition and the laboratory, while publishing in both fields and championing women’s educational rights. He also invented at the interface of medicine and chemistry.

The benefits of such a course in an engineering environment might be summed up with the mnemonic CREATE:

Dabby, D. (2001, June), Heroes For The Renaissance Engineer: Leonardo, Nabokov, Bach And Borodin Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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