Blending art and engineering

Two mechanical engineering seniors used their technical knowledge to design and build an interactive art piece.
Student standing in front of art exhibition with arms outstretched. The same shadow shows up in the art piece.

At Tufts, students have access to a range of resources, support, and a community that fosters creativity and innovation. Embracing these advantages, two undergraduate students in the Department of Mechanical Engineering recently created a large-scale interactive exhibit currently on display in the Tisch Library on the Tufts Medford/Somerville campus. “Shadow Mirror” features 576 motors that can recreate the viewer’s image in shadows. Gabe Moussa, E24, and Greg Osha, E24, designed and built the installation together with financial support from the Tufts Robotics Club. 

When a viewer approaches the Shadow Mirror exhibit, they see a large 24x24 wooden square with lights. As they move in front of the piece, sensors detect their motion and emit wooden slats that correspond with where they are moving in front of the piece. The contrast between the darker areas with wooden slats sticking out and the lighter areas with slats that are tucked in creates a dynamic silhouette of the viewer that reflects their movements. 

Moussa and Osha took inspiration from New York-based artist Daniel Rozin’s Mechanical Mirror exhibits for their project. Rozin creates mirrors from an array of unconventional materials including wood, rusted metal, and even scraps of garbage.  “We thought that creating something like [Rozin’s Mechanical Mirrors] would be a great way to apply our engineering skills to a large-scale project,” said Osha. The duo developed a unique design and mechanism for their installation. 

Although the pair did not have an official faculty mentor, they benefitted greatly from the experience of Brandon Stafford, part-time lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Nolop FAST Facility makerspace, as they designed and assembled their piece. “Brandon was a great resource when it came to debugging a particular issue with our servo motors – he helped us explore some possible issues that could have been happening,” said Moussa.

The hands-on project gave the pair practical experience in the engineering design process and a chance to learn key lessons along the way. “It’s so important to think about each piece and the careful design details, especially when parts have to be assembled hundreds of times,” shared Osha. They prototyped and made several iterations to ensure that the final product would fit together and work the way they wanted. 

Ultimately, Moussa and Osha created a successful piece that captures the attention of passers-by in Tisch Library. Although they are both seniors, they will not be parting ways any time soon. After graduation, they will both start work at DMC, an automation engineering consulting company in Davis Square, Somerville. They both anticipate leaning on the skills they learned at Tufts as they move into the next phase of their careers. “This project solidified our desire to keep working on engineering projects and to keep learning new skills along the way,” said Moussa.

Learn more about Shadow Mirror: