[box]This post originally appeared on the planning blog.[/box]

In this post, let’s explore the link between the twin worlds of microbiology and creative thought, drawing inspiration from three brilliant scientific discoveries. Labcoats on, people!

1. Sponges

If a sea sponge (phylum porifera) is forced through a sieve to disintegrate it down to its cellular level, those cells, if left alone, will recombine into a sponge again:

Lesson: some ideas only make sense as a whole – passing them through a ‘sieve test’ can reveal whether they were ever meant to be, while others may naturally merge together.

2. Slime Molds

A single-celled slime mold (physarum polycephalum) can solve mazes, mimic the layout of man-made transportation networks and choose the healthiest food from a diverse menu – and all this without a brain or nervous system:

Lesson: deploy resources efficiently – really smart solutions often arise naturally, yet knowing what’s best still requires lots of prior research. But hey, if a slime mold can do it…

3. Artificial Jellyfish

Scientists have created an artificial jellyfish using silicone and muscle cells from a rat’s heart. The synthetic creature, dubbed a medusoid, looks like a flower with eight petals. When placed in an electric field, it pulses and swims exactly like its living counterpart:

Lesson: even the most difficult concept can be somehow ‘brought to life’ – be it in a new context, through the addition of a couple of key ingredients, or sheer appliance of science!

50 Years of the LED

Today is the 50th birthday of the first practical LED, an invention built on an understanding that has transformed our lives: enabling cheap, mass-produced and very hardy display and lighting technologies.

A while back, GE produced a great piece of branded content featuring its inventor, Prof. Nick Holonyak, where he offers some insight into the moment that his light emitting diodes were first conceived:

He leaves us with the advice to “Learn more, do more, build more, reveal more”, which doesn’t take a physicist to know is just brilliant advice for life, for ‘inventors’ of all kinds.

“And you know what? This isn’t the end!”

Nucleus Medical Media

Nucleus Medical Media’s 2011 3D medical animation demo reel shows surgery, anatomy, mechanism of action (MOA), and physiology produced for medical devices, pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology, marketing agencies, lawyers, and more.

What Nucleus don’t include in their showreel’s YouTube description, but will become apparent, is that they are probably among the finest computer animators working today.

In my view they depict very complicated biomechanical processes so very clearly, and quite beautifully too. Here’s the aforementioned showreel:

My question is, how is it these guys are nailing it so hard?! Are they scientists trained in CAD, or the reverse?

Wipeout Reimagined with Quantum Levitation

You might have heard of quantum levitation, AKA the Meissner effect, flux pinning or superconducting magnetic levitation. But if you haven’t had the pleasure, then here’s what the fuss is all about:

When those two magnets are placed on the track and sent swirling in different directions, don’t you wish you could have a go yourself? Just me? I suppose I do bloody love magnets. But I’m not alone in this, however…

Wipeout Cover

A team from the ‘Japan Institute of Science and Technology’ (JIST) have sought to create a table-top game using the principles of quantum levitation at it’s core. Their inspiration? The classic racer wipE’out” on PlayStation.

Although there is some skepticism as to the authenticity of this work (there is no JIST and their video looks too smooth) the proof of concept alone is very cool, and obviously a lot of work has been put into this very clever fake. Take a look for yourself:

The Weird Inner World of the 3D Fractal

This post is about one of the really cool things that happens when maths I don’t understand and technologies I don’t understand get together to make something awesome. Let us begin:

A typical fractal, made using the Mandelbrot set.

A fractal is a conceptual object that reveals further details about its shape ad infinitum, upon ever-closer inspection of it’s fabric. Think of the trunk of a tree sprouting branches, which in turn split off into smaller branches, which themselves yield twigs etc and you won’t go far wrong. In fact, fractals typically look like this thing to the right.

These infinitely complex shapes are ‘created’ by instructing graphics software to render the result of a simple mathematics formula. Until now, the result has been a 2D image – there’s no depth, shadow, perspective, or light sourcing. It is a truly abstract mathematical shape.

But since your home computer became powerful enough to do proper image rendering stuff, home hobbyists have begun to innovate on these formulae. For the first time, three dimensional fractals are able to be created with relative ease.

I can’t go into the maths, because you know, I’m not a total geek, but I do want to show you how beautiful some of these shapes are. Let’s run through some examples:

This is what you get by multiplying phi and theta by two.

More like a classic fractal with 0.5*pi to theta and 1*pi to phi.

This time multiplying angle phi by two, but not theta.

But we’re still looking at these things from outside. The really cool bit is when you start to zoom in. So let’s look at some of the high quality renders from the archives of Daniel White at his highly eclectic Skytopia, where I first learned of this phenomenon.

Make sure you click around on some of these thumbnails, yeah?!

If you’re anything like me, you’d be pretty excited at the idea of being able to create both beauty and complexity from something as simple as a few lines of code, and to then be able to explore your creation from every angle.

Then again, if you’re anything like me, you’d feel a bit frustrated that you’ll probably never be able to make something that awesome yourself. So let’s marvel at the wonder of Daniel’s creation as he takes us deep ‘Into the Heart of the Mandelbulb’.

Your comments, please!

Into the Heart of the Mandelbulb