URI student combines science, art to make environmental point

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Work will be on display in Lippitt Hall

KINGSTON, R.I. –May 12, 2010 —Armine Tahmassian has a passion for science and people. The senior biology student, who will graduate from the University of Rhode Island this month, plans to combine her passions by becoming an optometrist. She begins her four-year program at New England College of Optometry in Boston next fall.

However, the 21-year-old Cranston resident set her sights on a different topic for her Senior Honors Project after enrolling in Professor Tom Husband’s Environmental Ethics class. Tahmassian said the 2008 Honors Colloquium lectures on the global climate change also influenced her choice.

“Many people hear about climate change, deforestation, and water pollution, but do they think about how they contribute to it?” she asks.

With advice from Lilla Samson, a painting and printmaking instructor in the URI Department of Art and Art History, Tahmassian combined her knowledge of science with the artistic talent she developed from four URI art classes to create an exhibit that she hopes will trigger an expanding awareness of personal responsibility.

Her artwork, with accompanying text is on display in Lippitt Hall, 5 Lippitt Road, Kingston. The hall is open to the public weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call the Honors Program at 874.2303.

Three pieces, appropriately entitled Land, Air, and Water, were created for the exhibit mostly from recycled material such as bottle caps, dryer lint, red netting from clementines, and Styrofoam to call attention to climate change, deforestation, and water pollution.

Another piece, Entropy is composed solely of plastic grocery bags. The URI student cut the bags into strips, twisted the strips with her father’s drill, rolled the twisted strips into a yarn-like ball, and began to knit. The piece begins with tight stitches and gradually opens to looser and looser stitches, creating larger holes, and eventually unwinds so completely that it returns to plastic bags.

“Entropy, measures how disorganized/organized a system is,” she explains. “As stated in the second law of thermodynamics, entropy (or disorder) will increase over time in an isolated system. Therefore this piece portrays that principle. In other words, we, as humans, are increasing the amount of disorder on the earth, which follows with this law, however, the conflict is that we are increasing this disorder at an escalating rate.”

Tahmassian credits the University Honors Program for her four years of extraordinary opportunities to explore topics of interest. For example, before choosing the environment, she considered focusing her Senior Honors Project on the Armenian massacre shortly after World War I since few of her classmates had heard about it.

She is the daughter of Armenian parents who immigrated to the United States. Her father, Andranik Tahmassian, earned his undergraduate (1976) and master’s degrees (1999) in civil engineering from URI.

Tahmassain founded URI’s Armenian Club for students, which has 20 members.

“The University Honors Program is a wonderful community of faculty and students with different interests and focuses. Leaving URI is truly bittersweet. Every year, it gets better and better,” she says.

Pictured above

Armine Tahmassian

URI Department of Communications & Marketing photo by Nora Lewis.