On today’s podcast, we talk about how you can apply the artistic side of your brain to solve engineering challenges.
Our guest is aerospace engineer, Dr. Onome Scott-Emuakpor, founder of Hyphen Innovations, a firm that develops new advanced aerospace components for the Department of Defense and other clients.
Onome’s family immigrated from Nigeria to Lansing, Michigan, before he was born. In high school, he was an average student but excelled in fine arts classes. In college, he played Division I basketball at Wright State.
While at Wright State, Onome realized he had a passion for engineering. Today, he says one of the keys to his success as an engineer is using the same type of creative approaches he embraced as a fine arts student.
Listen with the player at the bottom of the page or at your favorite podcast app.
Noah Graff: Give me a quick explanation of your company, Hyphen Innovations.
Onome Scott-Emuakpor: With Hyphen Innovations we make aerospace parts. We make them lighter. We make them stronger. We make them low cost, and we do that with unique out of the box design. And we use really intriguing advanced manufacturing methods.
Our main interest is turbine engines and turbine engine structures. The reason why we’re focused on the turbine engine is because we know that there’s still a lot of innovation. There’s still a lot of juice to squeeze out of that technology and improve the thrust to weight, so to speak, and do all that while also maintaining affordability with it.
Graff: You mentioned to me before that you were interested in fine arts when you were younger. What kind of art did you do growing up?
Scott-Emuakpor: I loved to sketch. Then in high school, there were classes that broadened (my) artistic capability. All of a sudden, I was painting, using watercolors, using colored pencils, painting with pastels, painting with oils. And it was like, this thing that I had been naturally good at as a kid just expanded through to all these other mediums. I was like, this is it. This is what I want to do. I wanna sit in one place, and paint or draw.
Graff: Did your parents expect you to do well in school? Were you in honors classes in high school?
Scott-Emuakpor: I was not (in honors classes). I don’t think I ever did homework in high school. I did homework five minutes before class, and that’s just because it wasn’t interesting. Math was kind of interesting, but it was interesting to me because I liked the challenge of seeing how well I could do on homework if I did [it] minutes before class.
I took the ACT, and I did terribly on it twice. I [scored] a 19. But on the math part, I got a 30-something.
I remember my dad (when I got to college), said “don’t put fine arts as your major. That’s not a major. I’m gonna go sleep on it and I’ll tell you what you should do.” And [he said] “I had a dream. You should put down engineering.”
It wasn’t until I actually started taking engineering classes that I thought, oh, this is kind of interesting. It wasn’t until I actually got a job that I was like, I now see where all the math is going. I now see where all the physics is going. I now see where all these classes are going.
Now all of a sudden you walk into a class and they say, “this is vibration.” And I’ve been working in a vibration lab, and I know what vibration is.
Graff: So you finally got your PhD. You’ve done all this research, you’re a career academic in your mid-twenties, and then you said, what do I do with this?
Scott-Emuakpor: I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I got my postdoc position, which was through the Air Force, or the National Academies. I was working at the Air Force base (in Dayton, Ohio), the same place that I worked as an undergrad, and the same place that I did my graduate school research.
Graff: How do you feel about doing research?
Scott-Emuakpor: I love it. Research essentially allows me to engage in my creative side. It allows me to essentially do art with science and engineering.
When you think about art, it’s like you’re given a blank canvas to create something. You’re essentially creating something from nothing. Even when you’re taking a picture, you’re creating something from nothing. When you’re writing, you’re creating something from nothing.
Graff: How much are you leaning on other people’s research for your own research? How much are you inspired by it?
Scott-Emuakpor: I’m constantly looking at what other people are doing, and I’m constantly looking at what people are doing outside of my industry. Inspiration can come from anywhere. It can come from people arguing in a meeting while you’re sitting in the back. I just pay attention. I’m constantly thinking, I’m constantly thinking of how I’m going to solve the problem.
For more information about Hyphen Innovations go to https://www.hyphenmade.com.
Question: What type of fine arts classes did you take as a student.
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I took Art History at U of M Dearborn back in the late 70’s. Word was out that it was an easy ‘A’ but it turned out to be more challenging than I expected.
As a Business / Marketing major it was a great change of pace and actually I’ve enjoyed fine art ever since those required field trips to the DIA (Detroit Institute of Arts).
Thanks for commenting.
I took art history in college too, when I was living in Florence. Teachers were so so, but when you actually go and see it right in front of you it’s breath taking. You GET IT when you see it right there.
Looking back though, perhaps some of the most interest art history I had was when I was in preschool through grade school when guests would come to school and we would gather around her like story time and she would show a book of famous paintings and talk about them. Stuff back then really can leave an impression. Even if your mind back then doesn’t get too analytical.
I actually took plenty of art