entertainmentProfessors

Since its founding, Tech has been a predominately science-based institute of learning, and today it is known as one of the leading engineering colleges in the world. But this focus on science and engineering has not stifled creativity in the liberal arts. In fact, there are two professors who would claim the opposite. The Technique recently discussed with these professors how working at Tech and having a background in engineering and sciences informed their creative endeavors.

Dr. Cressler is an Electrical and Computer Engineer professor. His first novel, Emeralds of the Alhambra, will be released June 15. There will be a signing at the Georgia Tech Barnes and Noble on June 25 at 6:30 pm.

Can you briefly explain what your novel is about?

Emeralds is set in the resplendent Alhambra Palace, in Granada, Spain, during the Castilian Civil War (1367-1369), a time when, remarkably, Muslims took up their swords to fight alongside Christians. The story centers on the relationship between William Chandon, a wounded Christian knight brought to Granada, and the Sufi Muslim princess, Layla al-Khatib.

How long have you been working on this novel?

I started in the fall of 2009 on Emeralds, and spent almost nine months on background research before laying pen to paper. The credenza in my office at home where I write is lined with over ten feet of references on all things al-Andalus which I digested… I finished the book in September of 2012.

Why make this story into a trilogy?

[This is] a remarkable period of cultural and intellectual enlightenment smack in the middle of the European “Dark Ages.” This period is also the pinnacle of convivencia (coexistence), the time when Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together in harmony. I also tell the story of how it all began to unravel. So Anthems of al-Andalus is not a trilogy in the traditional sense, with one book following the next chronologically…There will, however, be a linkage between all three books, so don’t despair!

How does Emeralds of the Alhambra, a historical novel set in 14th century Spain, relate to contemporary America?

As all would agree, our modern world is stained with the blood of religious conflict and fanaticism, and yet we managed to forget that for hundreds of years in medieval Spain, Christians, Muslims and Jews found a way to live together in relative peace, sharing languages and customs, whispering words of love across religious boundaries, embracing a level of mutual acceptance and respect unimaginable today…Our world aches for a future graced with tolerance and peace.

Is your work relevant to the students and staff at Tech?

YES! Emeralds is relevant to everyone, young or old, male or female, people of all cultures, people of all religions. Sound bold? Well, I think 99.9% of people would agree that a more peaceful planet would be an excellent thing. While the triggers for human conflict is inevitably complicated, one thing is certain – religious conflict is inked all over the historical record, and since 9/11 especially, religious conflict has been at the forefront of this conversation. Emeralds…speaks to two fundamental ideas: 1) peaceful coexistence is demonstrably possible between religions, and 2) Love has the power to transform the human heart and thereby cross cultural and religious boundaries in many beautiful ways. These are the BIG themes that most interest me.

“Emeralds is relevant to everyone, young or old, male or female, people of all cultures, people of all religions. Sound bold?”

How has your experience in a scientific field shaped your creative work?

I am very much a detail person, so the facts and figures and dates and people of history have always been easy for me to manage. History is my second love. This is an epic story, so being able to balance multiple intricate plot threads with a large cast of characters was important. I think my scientific background and sensibilities helped me in my description of the magical art and architecture of the Alhambra Palace.

Dr. Ludovice is a Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering professor. He wrote his stand-up act “Feel the Power of the Dork Side” and will be performing it June 5-9 at the 2013 Atlanta Fringe Festival.

How long have you been doing stand-up?

I started doing stand-up in January 2004, when I went to a comedy open mic at the Funny Farm Comedy Club in Roswell, GA. I later worked there as an occasional opener, and then did some feature and headliner work on the road in the southeast.

Do you find science to be an untapped topic for comedy?

It is not a mainstream topic, but it is hardly untapped. I joined a large number of Georgia Tech personnel at the U.S.A. Science & Engineering Festival in Washington DC in spring of 2012, and did four humorous presentations on science and engineering including topics such as statistics, chemical engineering, polymer science and the role of humor in the classroom.

Why do you think science is largely unused as a topic for stand-up?

While it is not unused, its use is certainly limited. The reason for its lack of popularity is a double-edged sword. People find science complicated and un-interesting so it is not a good topic for jokes. The best topic for jokes is one that everyone can relate to. Ironically, the very reason most people can’t relate to science…is that we have done little to popularize it. Once we popularize it, many scientists get angry because they see this as dumbing it down.

“For me, no science or engineering topic is off limits. I do jokes about differential equations, eigenvectors, polymer science and statistical mechanics.”

What are some of the scientific concepts you use in your show?

For me, no science or engineering topic is off limits. I do jokes about differential equations, eigenvectors, polymer science and statistical mechanics. However, I do vary the approach depending on the audience…For audiences at Georgia Tech and MIT I actually analyze some real data on pet preferences to explain “Dog People” vs. “Cat People”. While I may not go into that level of detail for a general audience, I always explain how eharmony.com uses this mathematical technique to match you with your perfect mate. It results in some funny jokes about how the nerd you would never date in H.S. is now in charge of your love-life.

Is your work relevant to the students and staff at Tech?

Yes, I think the Georgia Tech community enjoys someone who pokes a bit of fun at fellow nerds and life on a college campus. The staff likes when I make jokes about parking, and I use some of my jokes to keep my students awake during 8am classes. My nearly decade of work in comedy has taught me that comedians are smarter than most people think, and nerds are funnier than most people think.

How has your experience in a scientific field shaped your creative work?

It has only helped by providing material and perspective for my creative work. Additionally, my creative work has shown me how humor can be used as creative energy to produce innovative technical solutions…By using humorous situations, I believe we can improve technical education at Georgia Tech…In addition to making the excercise a bit lighter, it also makes [students] less afraid of drawing conclusions from the analysis. Students are often afraid their conclusion will be criticized by the instructor, who they see as an expert in the field. However, they don’t see the instructor as an expert on a separate set of humorous data, and this makes them less afraid of making a conclusion.