Published: May 1, 2018
Emily Daub portrait
Close up of Emily Daub using a soldering iron as she works in her lab in the Atlas building on the CU Boulder campus.
Emily Daub works in her lab in the Atlas building on the CU Boulder campus.

Emily Daub is fascinated by human interactions: How people change while in or out of relationships; how they value themselves in the context of their relationship status; how changes in relationships affect us; and how each relationship differs from another. 

On May 4, Daub brings her fascination to life in an ambitious dance performance that features a wide spectrum of dance styles and handmade costumes equipped with embedded computational and wireless communications technologies. 

Titled “The Show,” the performance is billed as a variety dance performance that “tells the story of how we shape and mold others (and vice versa),” writes Daub, who graduates in May with a bachelor’s degree from the ATLAS Institute’s Technology, Arts and Media (TAM) program, along with a minor in theatre and dance. 

Masterminding both the art and engineering is a comfortable role for Daub, which strikes some as unusual. “I've almost always been an outlier,” Daub says. “TAM fosters that spirit, allowing it to become an asset rather than a handicap.”

Daub entered CU Boulder as a chemistry major with plans to attend medical school, but soon decided it wasn’t the right path for her. A member of the Fashion Design Student Association (FDSA), she found her way to the TAM program via the Makers Collective, another student group. “Someone from the Makers Collective reached out with a project that involved inserting lights in clothing,” says Daub. “That caught my interest.” 

She worked on a swing dance skirt, inserting an accelerometer and 70 LEDs in the hem and coding them so the LEDs would light when the wearer spun. Soon after, she became the president of the Makers Collective, and because club activities happened in the ATLAS Blow Things Up (BTU) Lab, she learned about the TAM program. Since then, she’s created more than 20 pieces of wearable technology of varying levels of complexity, “The Show” being her most ambitious project to date. 

Daub says she couldn’t have reached this point without support, including funding from an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) grant which covered all the materials. And working under the mentorship of Ben Shapiro as a member of the ATLAS research group, The Laboratory for Playful Computation, meant she was surrounded by a group of supportive graduate students. “Annie Kelly was so, so helpful,” says Daub, referring to a PhD student in the lab.

“The Show” has kept Daub busy since January, designing and sewing costumes, embedding microprocessors, sensors and NeoPixel LEDs, and programming each with unique light patterns that respond to movement and the wearer’s proximity to other dancers over time. 

In addition, she’s encoded a matrix of affinities between dancers, so that when characters with mutual attraction dance together, light patterns in their costumes reflect the personal chemistry and gradually converge. At the same time, analogous changes take place in the pair's dance styles, Daub says.

While the technical side of her work tends to draw the most attention, Daub prefers to be known for her artistry in a more holistic sense. She’s choreographed “The Show,” and will perform alongside six other dancers, and she’s proud of her costumes and how the embedded technology looks and works. “How finished products look is very important to me,” she says. “I've gotten to this point mostly because the things I make are beautiful and functional, not because they are technically complex,” says Daub. 

It’s the same way she’s always approached her projects, forming one coherent vision and then solving problems in order to realize it. “I’m motivated to achieve a specific outcome, not to just push my skills,” she says.

If you go
Who: Open to everyone!
What: “The Show,” a variety dance performance
When: Friday, May 4, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Black Box Experimental Theater, Roser ATLAS Center, 1125 18th St., Boulder
Cost: Free, but donations for the dancers will be accepted during the performance.
Registration required

Photo album
UROP Video
Inspiration and promise mark CU Boulder graduating class (Daily Camera)