Creative Works

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 Biomimetic 3D Printing
     Drew Ehrlich and Oskar Elek

Nature presents us with an incredible variety of networked structures: rhizomes formed by tree roots, fungal mycelium networks, animal circulatory systems, and of course, neuronal networks.

It seems undeniable that networks are one of the universal structures of reality. Humans construct networks of many kinds, and in 2021 these networks are becoming the dominant part of our lives. Even the Cosmic matter that makes us all is organized in a kind of structured flow that follows the distribution of itself through gravitational interaction.

To give some of these networks physical shape, we use different kinds of 3D printing. For example, stereolitography (SLA) can produce robust structures as long as they are interconnected and don't contain too many overhangs. The pictured prints were generated from 37 thousand galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey catalog. We use the Polyphorm software to generate density-field approximations of the Cosmic Web, and subsequent meshing and slicing of the data.

This is an ongoing project, please contact us if you're interested to know more or contribute.

 Physarum Telam
     Winner of the Art Award @ Artificial Life (June 2021)
     Issei Mori*, Oskar Elek*, Joseph N. Burchett, Angus G. Forbes

Physarum Telam

Physarum Telam is an interactive online installation reimagining our team’s research project Polyphorm. Through Physarum Telam we celebrate the slime mold, its awesome weirdness and inexplicable familiarity. For an undifferentiated yellow blob, it boasts remarkable skills: learning, adaptation, navigation. But in spite of these outstanding abilities, it is Physarum’s appearance that makes it instantly recognizable amongst earthly living forms.

In order to reproduce its yellow slimy translucent exterior, we designed a custom physically based appearance model dubbed Slimex. This composite model consists of two components: a glossy surface BSDF representing the organism’s thin transparent membrane and a volumetric scattering model representing the yellow-pigmented cytoplasmic fluid. The images computed by Monte-Carlo path tracing using Slimex provide physically realistic depictions of Physarum, or rather, its imaginary 3D equivalent.

Physarum Telam takes the audience on a tour around the Cosmic Web data generated by Polyphorm. In this interactive online application the observer can freely navigate and examine the data rendered with a standard 3D volume visualization technique called maximum intensity projection, or MIP in short. The style of MIP will be familiar to most, as it is commonly used in medical and scientific 3D visualizations. In addition to the dataset, the visualization also contains several spherical nodes functioning as portals: when clicked, the camera smoothly transitions to the respective node position, and switches to one of the images pre-rendered by Slimex. This novel view of the data reveals to the observer the true nature of its original inspiration: a humble yellow squishy blob with affinity for connecting, for bridging things.

[HTM]Physarum Telam            [HTM]ALIFE Presentation            [PDF]Extended Abstract

As Above - So Below

 As Above - So Below
     Print @ Museum of Art and History Santa Cruz (2021)
     Oskar Elek

The exhibition: In these uncertain times, it's more important than ever to come together to create, celebrate, and heal. The daily lives of people all over the world have changed dramatically in response to the rapid spread of COVID-19. While shelter in place orders have many people spending more time indoors, others continue to live and work outside the home with caution. "In These Uncertain Times" has showcased the creativity and resilience of Santa Cruz County’s response to shelter in place and the COVID-19 global pandemic. Through community-sourced artwork, individual stories and objects from the MAH’s history collection, the exhibition explore the ways that creativity and community can support us through times of uncertainty.

The work: What is our place in a displaced world? How to find connection when our most outstanding shared condition separates us? We set out to answer such questions from a Cosmic perspective. Inspired by nature, we imbued a computer algorithm with the power to connect. The result is a simulation of an ancient organism called Physarum polycephalum ‘slime mold’ applied on a grand scale -- 37,600 galaxies interconnected by tendrils and filaments, joined together in a single vast structure, the Cosmic web. The microscopic and the macroscopic, bridged by universal scale-independent network structures. And with us, humans, right in the middle: slicing the Cosmic web bottom-up, we get images with uncanny resemblance to tomographic scans of our own brain. Again a network, billions of neurons teeming with individual activity, yet united in a desire for place and meaning. Even in uncertain times, we don’t stop looking for connection.

Technical description: The images of the Cosmic web are rendered by a scientific visualization software Polyphorm, developed in 2020 by computational media and astrophysics researchers from UC Santa Cruz. These results have led to several scientific publications in top journals in the fields, expanding our understanding of these (largest known) cosmological structures.

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