Category Archives: The Art of Science

The Art of Science: The Not-Quite-3D Christmas Tree

The tree in the center was printed with a traditional 3D printing algorithm, while the others were made with the new pyramid technique

The tree in the center was printed with a traditional 3D printing algorithm, while the others were made with the new pyramid technique

Little plastic Christmas trees don’t really count as art, but the science and math behind this one is pretty interesting, so we’ll let the deeper questions of aesthetics and meaning slide just this once.

Computer Science researcher Richard Zhang of Canada’s Simon Fraser University printed the tree as a demonstration of a newly developed 3D printing algorithm that has potential applications far beyond seasonal tchotchkes.

Michael Byrne at Motherboard explains:

“Zhang is solving a real-life problem: saving waste. Printing an object with overhanging parts, like a tree branch, requires the deposition of extra material below to support the top part through the printing process. At the end, this material is cut away and trashed. The answer, according to Zhang, is in using pyramidal components.”

“Decomposing a complex shape into simpler primitives is one of the most fundamental geometry problems,” Zhang and his team write in a recent paper. “The main motivation is that most computation and manipulation tasks can be more efficiently executed when the shapes are simple.”

And pyramids offer an elegant solution, because, Zhang says, pyramids are 2.5D.  (I’ll give you a second to collect your brain cells from the floor)

Byrne explains:  “Two-and-a-half dimensions is a concept used in machining (and computer graphics, with a different meaning) to describe an object with no overhangs. It only has a top, and can be viewed as a projection of 2D flatness into the third dimension.”

There’s lots more info about the science and math behind the printable pyramids in Byrne’s article and in Zhang’s paper.

Two-Piece Chicken Suit

Last week, I posted on the biological elegance of using the simple building blocks of Legos to create complexity in objects using a crow built by nobu_tary as an example. Another creation of nobu_tary illustrates how few of those simple building blocks are necessary, if you look at them from an unanticipated point of view.

I give you a chicken…

"LEGO Chicken" by nobu_tary (All Rights Reserved; Used with Permission)

“LEGO Chicken” by nobu_tary (All Rights Reserved; Used with Permission)

*For the unitiated, the chicken is created using two Lego mini-figure hair pieces.

Santa Baby, leave a present under the tree for me…

Our own Michele Banks had her scarves featured on MSNBC this morning (along with our friend The Vexed Muddler):

A Murder of Legos

"LEGO Crow" by nobu_tary (All Rights Reserved; Used with Permission)

“LEGO Crow” by nobu_tary (All Rights Reserved; Used with Permission)

It might be enough to say that I love Lego depictions of biology just because they are lovely. It might; but that would go against my nature. After a period of intense navel gazing, I’ve concluded that my febrile brain likes the idea of creating elegance from a simple set of basic building blocks – much like actual biology does.

This build of a crow by nobu_tary recently caught my fancy. It uses very few pieces to capture the essence of the bird and allow the dynamic motion of the wings to be represented.

"LEGO Crow" by nobu_tary (All Rights Reserved; Used with Permission)

“LEGO Crow” by nobu_tary (All Rights Reserved; Used with Permission)

HT: Brothers Brick

The Art of Science: Biologically-Enhanced Fashion

Mushtari, from the Wanderers project

Mushtari, from the Wanderers project

This is the Björkiest thing I have ever seen.  Wanderers,  a collaborative project to create digitally grown and 3d printed wearables that could embed living matter, looks like a perfect fit for the Icelandic chanteuse, who is famous for her biophilia and wildly adventurous fashion sense.

A team led by Neri Oxman of MIT and Christoph Bader & Dominik Kolb of Deskriptiv is working on a computational growth process which can mimic a wide variety of growing structures.  Based on growth patterns found in nature, computer models create shapes that adapt to their environment.  Once a design is generated, a 3D printer creates a wearable structure.

Filip Visnjic at Creative Applications Network explains: “Starting with a seed, the process simulates growth by continuously expanding and refining its shape. The wearables are designed to interact with a specific environment characteristic of their destination and generate sufficient quantities of biomass, water, air and light necessary for sustaining life: some photosynthesize converting daylight into energy, others bio-mineralize to strengthen and augment human bone, and some fluoresce to light the way in pitch darkness.”

In the long term, the team hopes to produce 3D printed microfluidic devices through which to pump living matter (such as photosynthetic bacteria) to bring the Wanderers to life. In the short term, they’ve created an amazingly hypnotic video showing how the computer simulates growth patterns (watch it here) and some stunning molded plastic breastplates and even a skirt. The pieces, which look a lot like glistening external brains and intestines, are more attractive than I’m making them sound.  And sure, they’re wearable – if you’re Björk.

More photos and information about the Wanderers project are here.