Mizzou Engineer earns merit award at MU Visual Art & Design Showcase

April 14, 2022

Emily Werner

What do you get when you use engineering techniques to transform two-dimensional materials into 3D objects? Award-winning art. Emily Werner, a senior in mechanical engineering, proved just how artistic the field can be when she recently won an Award of Merit in Applied Design at MU’s Visual Art and Design Showcase. Her pieces are now on display at the Columbia Art League, and she will be recognized at a reception on Monday during Undergraduate Research Week.

The Visual Art and Design Showcase is a venue for undergraduate students to display and discuss scholarly work in an exhibition setting. Werner’s project was unique among more traditional art forms, such as photography, painting, sculpting and digital storytelling. Werner’s work, “Origami Hyperboloids,” was one of eight projects selected for an award by a jury panel of three Mizzou alumni who are professional artists.

“I was really surprised to win,” Werner said. “It was satisfying in a way because other people could acknowledge and recognize that engineering can be creative. I’m glad people found my research interesting, and it’s nice to share and reflect on engineering in a new way.”

For the event, Werner created a pair of origami sculptures defined by mathematics and inspired by hyperbolic surfaces. In both, the geometry and curvature of the sculptures are dependent on the two-dimensional folding pattern, creating features the material otherwise could not exhibit.

“Basically, our lab does research focused on deployable structures and the mechanics of how materials fold and collapse,” she said. “I am learning about the behavior and structures of metamaterials.”

While it’s technical research, the concept is familiar. Think about a sheet of paper. It can’t fly across a room as is, but when folded into a specific pattern, it becomes a paper airplane. Wadded up, the sheet can be thrown like a ball.

“All of the material I work with begins as a flat sheet, then it’s all folded — no material is removed,” Werner said. “It takes on new properties from the folds. For example, you couldn’t simply wrap a sheet of paper around an orange, but if you folded it in different ways, it could take on a spherical shape that could wrap around the object.”

The work has a wide range of possible applications such as collapsible robotics that use biomaterials, aerospace deployable mechanisms and architecture in civil engineering design.

It’s also given Werner the opportunity to combine her love of art, engineering and interest in helping others.

“Engineering is so much more than math and science, and I didn’t even realize that when I started my program,” she said. “There are so many creative aspects and opportunities in the College of Engineering. Finding my niche has helped me understand that engineering is more than technical work.  As soon as you find something you’re passionate about, it becomes so much more impactful. I feel like I found a perfect fit with my research group.”

Outside of her research, Werner is involved in Pi Tau Sigma, the mechanical engineering honor society; Mizzou Space Program; Mizzou University Clay Klub (M.U.C.K.); Mizzou Women’s Club Volleyball.

After graduating in May, she plans to attend graduate school, studying mechanical engineering, industrial design or textile design.

“I want a way to continue to tie my creativity to something technical, that’s what I’m looking for in a graduate program,” she said. “And I want to help people. I chose engineering because I really want to make a difference in people’s lives. I like the idea of designing and making useful products that make the world a better place.”

Study engineering in an environment that fosters creativity. Learn more about mechanical and aerospace engineering.