LOS ANGELES--()--A three-dimensional fractal has taken physical form for the first time in the history of the world—and perhaps the universe—at the University of Southern California Libraries. More than 300 USC students and faculty, neighborhood K-12 students, and other volunteers built the Mosely Snowflake Fractal out of nearly 50,000 folded business cards.
“Like a fantastic book, it opens your eyes to linkages between disciplines that are often kept far apart.”
This collaborative community artwork is the culminating project of the 2011-2012 USC Libraries Discovery Fellowship. The fellowship, which Dean Catherine Quinlan established in 2011, showcases the library as a place where disciplines intersect and where artists and scholars engage library collections and people to make possible surprising discoveries and creative works.
“Our community has brought this object into being for the first time,” Quinlan said. “Before this project, this beautiful and enigmatic fractal existed only digitally and in the imaginations of mathematicians and artists. It is an inspiring example of the creative potential that a great library makes possible for an entire community.”
Inaugural Discovery Fellow Margaret Wertheim spearheaded the fractal project at the USC Libraries. Wertheim, also a science writer and curator, is co-director of the Institute for Figuring in Los Angeles and is well-known for the institute’s work on the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef.
“The snowflake fractal resides at the boundary of mathematics, engineering, and physical making,” said Wertheim. “Like a fantastic book, it opens your eyes to linkages between disciplines that are often kept far apart.”
Wertheim added, “Interdisciplinary exploration through mathematical origami has also been happening recently at the Japanese American National Museum and elsewhere in California. We’re truly experiencing an origami moment. With this enchanting fractal, the USC Libraries are on the forefront of a major international movement of art and mathematics.”
The Mosely Snowflake takes its name from engineer and pioneering origami artist Jeannine Mosely, who discovered its form in 2006 and designed the construction process. In 2008, Mosely built an origami Menger Sponge, a famous fractal discovered in 1926 by mathematician Karl Menger. The snowflake fractal is closely related to the Menger Sponge form.
Fractals are geometric shapes in which the component parts resemble the whole. This quality, called self-similarity, results from repeatedly building up a form from small component units, so that the overall pattern appears identical at all levels of magnification.
To plan the snowflake fractal’s construction, Mosely coded a software simulation that allowed her to visualize the object, assess its structural integrity, and calculate the required thickness and number of business cards.
Volunteers from the USC community then assembled thousands of the basic cubes. Others linked these cubes together to form more complex modules, which in turn were connected to create even more complex structures.
The modularity of the Mosely Snowflake Fractal is a “fantastic metaphor for what the USC campus is capable of achieving,” said Wertheim. “When you get hundreds of people putting their time and energy into building and linking these modules, you get a massively captivating structure. No individual could have achieved this.”
The exhibition opens on Sept. 20, at 5 p.m., in Doheny Memorial Library on USC’s University Park Campus. Hand-drawn studies, digital renderings, and items from the USC Libraries’ collections also will be on view.
The reception is free and open to the public. RSVP at www.usc.edu/esvp with the code “snowflake” or call (213) 821-1153 for event information.