Mechanical engineering students build motorized Vitruvian man for a School of Music performance

In This Story

People Mentioned in This Story

A group of George Mason University mechanical engineering students are building a motorized Vitruvian man for a Center for the Arts (CFA) performance of "Flying to the Stars," a choral concert dedicated to the beginnings of flight from the time of Leonardo da Vinci to the exploration of space.

Team members Kevin Kuck (left) and David Gosselin working on their project in the Machine Shop. Photo provided.
Team members Kevin Kuck (left) and David Gosselin working on their project in the Machine Shop. Photo provided.

Lisa Billingham, director of choral activities at the Dewberry Family School of Music, said she wanted the concert to be an immersive experience for the audience, and reached out to the College of Engineering and Computing (CEC) for help. There she connected with Nathan Kathir, a mechanical engineering professor, who shared the project idea with his students.  

“This project is exciting because we are partnering with another unit at Mason outside of CEC,” said Kathir, who is the director of senior capstone projects for mechanical engineering students.  

“There is already a lot of art involved in engineering, and this collaboration between music and our department will be very inspiring for future students,” said Kathir.  

The four students assigned to the project are working in the Machine Shop on the SciTech Campus and call themselves The Polymaths. 

“We were thinking about the show’s theme of Leonardo da Vinci and we knew that the Vitruvian man is kind of his staple,” said Mellany Ayala, a senior mechanical engineering student. “I drew a very rough sketch of the Vitruvian man inside a gyroscopic figure, and it ended up being what our team decided to build.” 

The device, which will hang from center stage throughout the show, has two spotlights as well as projections that will shine down on the students as they perform.  

“We’re aiming for something similar to the immersive Van Gogh experience in D.C.,” said Kevin Kuck, a senior mechanical engineering student and the team leader.   

The Polymaths met once a week with Billingham and her student research assistant and choir member, Ross Calvin, to discuss the project and work on a proposal for funding. They applied for and received a grant from Mason’s University Life.  

Billingham also created a QR code fundraiser on Facebook and received anonymous donations, she said.  

“Hopefully these cool project collaborations keep happening in the future. It was really refreshing to work with people from CVPA; they were so easygoing and in such happy spirits,” said Ayala. 

The Polymaths worked with the CFA’s electrician and did a run-through a week before the performance. They will also give a presentation about the project on Capstone Day to showcase the final product.  

“This project has been one of the more hands-on experiences I’ve had at Mason so far,” said Kuck. “Being able to build something with my own hands was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed seeing it go from an idea on a page to something real. I think that's been the most satisfying part for me.” 

During the concert, students will perform Jocelyn Hagen's “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci” and “Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine” by Eric Whitacre.  A piece by alum Peter Kadeli will also be performed.