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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, May 19, 2024

Senior engineering students create interactive shadow mirror on display in Tisch Library

An art installation by Greg Osha and Gabe Moussa adds creative flair to Tisch Library.

The Shadow Mirror is pictured.

Since late February, many students walking in and out of Tower Café have paused to examine the interactive mirror in the Tower Gallery. The large, glowing structure has many small panels that mirror your movements as you walk by, captivating the attention of many.

The structure titled “Shadow Mirror” was constructed by Greg Osha and Gabe Moussa, both seniors studying mechanical engineering. While the two constructed multiple projects during their undergraduate career, most of their creations consisted of smaller classroom projects. For this project, however, they wanted to try something new.

“I think we wanted to try doing something longer term that would really take a lot of what we had done before,” Osha said.

The Shadow Mirror is located in Tisch Library, a space that functions as the permanent home of many art pieces, including sculptures and busts. Tisch also houses multiple temporary exhibitions, including a display of Tufts’ past presidents that was installed during President Sunil Kumar’s inauguration in the fall of 2023.

The process to have a piece of art or an engineering project put on display in the library is not as difficult as one might imagine. According to  Dorothy Meaney, the director of Tisch Library, students and staff can either reach out directly to the library to display a piece or go through the Tufts University Art Galleries, which is what Osha and Moussa did.

We have a lot of walls and we have certain spaces that are specifically designated for art,” Meaney said. “We're really open to as much [art] as we can. … [There are] really a lot of [possibilities].”

While the Tisch Library staff and the Tufts University Art Galleries decided where the Shadow Mirror could find a temporary home, Osha and Moussa continued to dedicate time to working on it. Osha explained the extensive process of construction:

“You start with the easiest possible thing,” Osha said. “The first prototype was just one little cell of something poking in and out and seeing if we could feasibly do that. And then it's hard to predict whether or not it will scale.”

The two planned out their build process on a computer before starting the physical assembly. This pre-planning allowed them to catch problems and possible malfunctions ahead of time. Additionally, the two creators had to figure out how much power the machine would need in order to make sure the wall could safely supply it. Ultimately, Osha and Moussa decided to purchase a PC tower off of Facebook Marketplace, as a smaller computer was not enough for the larger mirror.

After they tackled the logistics of the construction, Osha and Moussa began putting the physical mirror together with assistance from their friends as well as funding from the Tufts Robotics Club.

Assembly was a huge part of the project, just because of how large it is and how many nuts and bolts everything, so we had a bunch of friends help us,” Moussa said. “We had build parties where we bought donuts and coffee and built some boxes for a few hours in the [Science and Engineering Complex].” 

According to Osha, the entire build process took about a year. He recalled hitting a slump in the middle of the process, when the work piled up and the end felt out of sight.

“When you're doing something 576 times, if you're like, oh, let's add a bolt here, you have to add that bolt 576 times,” Osha said, in reference to the 576 small panels of the mirror.

Despite the struggles, the two were able to prevail and complete their impressive project. Upon its completion, the Shadow Mirror was placed on display in Tisch Library on Feb. 25. Once it was up and running, Osha and Moussa spent time sitting by the mirror to watch people interact with it and gauge their reactions. They were excited to have created a piece of art that had reactive qualities and invoked emotional responses from the viewer.

I think the interactive experience is just really cool and unique involving a physical system and movement and you get to see yourself interact with it in real time,” Moussa said. “We had a lot of joy playing around with it on a small prototype scale and as we were building it, people would come by and mess around.”

Meaney emphasized the importance of art pieces in Tisch — including the Shadow Mirror — as they serve to liven up the building and provide a better study environment for students.

“It creates an environment where people can react and interact with whatever we have. When they curate an exhibition, like in the stairwell or something like that, it gives students an opportunity to see things that they wouldn't ordinarily see without going all the way over to the art gallery,” Meaney said.

Notably, Tisch Library is open to the public, not just the Tufts community, which means that the art in the building is exposed to a wide variety of individuals. Meaney expressed her hope that those who view the art will feel a sense of inspiration.

“[The art] teaches people things and inspires creativity. For all of those reasons, we like to have art here,” Meaney said.

Osha spoke to the connectivity of art and engineering, especially at Tufts. Because the two schools — the School of Engineering and the School of Arts and Sciences — are so geographically connected, it is easy for students to explore multiple areas of study and create art pieces or engineering pieces that are interdisciplinary.

“It's kind of fun to see how art can connect to engineering,” Osha said.

Although Osha and Moussa were amused by how people have been startled by the Shadow Mirror, they are most proud of how approachable and interactive the piece is. The piece constantly reflects the movements of those who walk by; consequently, its appearance is ever changing and unique to its viewer.

 “I like the interactability,” Osha said. “You feel how you're interacting with [the mirror] directly, and I think that's great.” 

You can view the Shadow Mirror in Tisch before it departs on June 1.