Erik Demaine and Martin Demaine

Waves in Glass

Erik Demaine

source: holdernessorg

Erik Demaine and Martin Demaine are a father-son math-art team. Martin started the first private hot glass studio in Canada and has been called the father of Canadian glass. Since 2005, Martin Demaine has been an Artist-in-Residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Erik is also at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as a Professor in computer science. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2003. In these capacities, Erik and Martin work together in paper, glass, and other material. They use their exploration in sculpture to help visualize and understand unsolved problems in science, and their scientific abilities to inspire new art forms. Their artistic work includes curved origami sculptures in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, and the Renwick Gallery in the Smithsonian. Their scientific work includes over sixty published joint papers, including several about combining mathematics and art. Recently they have been exploring folding hot glass, and computer aided design of glass cane.
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source: erikdemaineorg

“Waves in Glass” is about the communication between two media rarely combined—folded paper and blown glass. The glass was initially made while blindfold, as shown in the video above, so that the communication with the 2000° material is purely through touch, matching the dominant mode of communication with paper.

We have worked together for several years in both glass sculpture and paper sculpture, and have longed to create sculpture from both media in a way that they relate to one another—that they communicate. To start with, we as artists must communicate with the material. Paper relies on touch. The tactile interaction lets you talk to the paper, asking it to bend, and you can hear the material responding, as the folds form the shape.

Glass is hot, over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, making it untouchable. Glass blowers rely on visual cues to communicate and shape this amorphous material. In order to make it relate to paper folding, we blow glass blindfold, leaving touch as the only way to communicate. Touch is possible through a thin layer of wet paper, which serves as the communication interface between the artist and the material. This experiment brought a new sensitivity and awareness in communication with the glass and between paper and glass. After the experience, we returned to making glass while sighted, and found that our perception changed and the physical sensation was heightened, while we continued to shape the hot glass through wet paper.

The communication between paper and glass continues through the curved-crease sculptures placed inside the glass forms. We use computers to design these sculptures, based on algorithms from the field of computational origami. Here we fold paper along concentric circular creases, a design originating at the Bauhaus in the late 1920s. Creases set the memory of the paper so that it tries to return to a specific dihedral angle, while uncreased paper tries to remain flat. Confined to open within a glass enclosure, the paper finds new equilibrium forms, which would not exist without the communication between the materials. We chose a head shape for the glass to hold the paper, as it embodies most forms of human communication: vision, voice, hearing, and smell.

As scientists we are concerned with how to best communicate new discoveries and processes. We use sculpture as a way to express our research to a broad audience, illustrating the beauty of mathematical structures through the design of physical manifestations. We find that the dialog between our scientific work and our artistic work inspires both our art and science in directions that would not be possible in isolation.
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source: nsfgov

For Erik Demaine and his father Martin, science and art move bi-directionally. Science inspires their art, and art inspires their science.
“We think of both art and science simply as creative endeavors,” says Erik Demaine, professor of computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “Often, we take on a project without knowing whether it will end up as art or as science. Maybe it will be mathematically interesting, and we will write papers about it. Or maybe it will be artistically interesting, and we will make sculptures about it.”
Erik Demaine, 31, is a computer scientist turned artist, whose scientific area of expertise lies in computational geometry, specifically computational origami, that is, the mathematical study of bending and folding. Martin Demaine is an artist turned computer scientist, once known as “the father of Canadian glass,” who began his artistic career glass-blowing, and later taught himself computer science by sitting in on his son’s classes.
Three of their folded paper sculptures currently are on display through Feb. 3, 2013, in a special exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s Renwick Gallery called “40 under 40,” featuring works by 40 artists under the age of 40. Erik, obviously, is the one under 40. His father is listed as a collaborator, but is not considered one of the 40. “My father thought it was great to be included, and kept joking how he had gotten younger,” he says.
Their first collaboration came when Erik was six, and the two established “The Erik and Dad Puzzle Company,” making wire, take-apart puzzles they designed, which were sold through toy stores around Canada. Erik grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where his father home-schooled him, and entered Dalhousie University when he was 12, graduating at 14. He earned his doctorate at 20, when he became an assistant professor at MIT–believed to be the youngest professor in the history of the school.
Some years ago, his father, who also now lives in Cambridge, Mass., became fascinated with theoretical computer science, and began teaching himself. “He got intrigued by my computer science and I got intrigued by his art,” Erik Demaine says. “We started working on computational origami, which has a natural offshoot in the art world. He is equally interested in the science: We’ve written more than 100 papers together.”
The two began turning science into sculptures about 15 years ago when “I was searching for interesting mathematics of origami to explore, and he was exploring the art side,” he says. “I started becoming an artist at the same time he was becoming a computer scientist. Now we are both much more balanced. The more we do it, the more we like to think of art and science as the same thing.”
He acknowledges that he and his father sometimes disagree, “but they’re not fights,” he says. “We have different perspectives on the way we think something will work, and we resolve them by trying both.”
Demaine conducts his folding research with computational algorithms, sometimes run on an actual computer and sometimes in his head. He often uses a computer drawing program that can draw lines and circles and find the intersections, so he can print it out and fold it. “I might test several possible foldings until I can figure out the solution,” he says. “Even when I know in theory that a method will work, it’s fun to try it out in practice and see it in action.”
There are important practical applications to what he does, most important among them the challenge of finding ways to move large objects through smaller spaces. “There are a lot of scientific and engineering applications to having a physical object that can change shape,” he says. “This comes up in transportation or in the human body in blood vessels. You need to get something really small until it reaches its destination, and then can expand out.”
The National Science Foundation has been supporting Demaine’s research for more than a decade. In 2004, Demaine won a $400,000 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award for his work in geometric folding algorithms. The award supports junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organization. Demaine still teaches a class on the subject at MIT. (Video lectures of this class are available at no charge online.)
In 2003, Demaine received a prestigious $500,000 “no strings attached” MacArthur Fellowship, or “genius” grant. In describing his work at the time, the MacArthur Foundation said: “Demaine moves readily between the theoretical and the playful, with a keen eye to revealing the former in the latter. For example, he recently demonstrated that a popular computer game, Tetris, represents an example of a computational geometry problem that falls into the ‘NP-complete’ category, implying explosive growth in difficulty with no shortcuts available.”
The Demaine sculptures in the Renwick exhibit explore the concept of curved creases, a departure from traditional origami, which typically involves folding straight creases.
“We have mathematical tools for designing straight crease origami, but the challenge has been curved creases,” he says. “There is little mathematical understanding of curved creases, and how to design them. We wanted to explore that, and are still exploring it. The more experimental design we do, the more we get an intuitive understanding of how to encourage the paper into a particular shape. The mathematical goal is to be able to automatically design, with a computational tool, any 3-D form you want with these curved creases.
“Suppose you want to fold a space station,” he adds. “You give the computer algorithm your 3-D drawing of your space station and it tells you how to put in the curved creases, and if you put them in at once, it will pop into your desired shape.”
The Demaines attach great value to the interplay of art and science.
“On the one hand, we have some very interesting geometric sculpture. And, on the other hand, we are growing our understanding of these forms that ultimately will lead to some scientific and engineering applications,” he says. “Our sculptures also represent a different way of communicating with the public. For scientists, it’s another medium to communicate that there are both interesting and beautiful things in science and math.”