Interaction of Science and Art through Educational System



Kobe Design University,

Gakuen-Nishimachi, Nishi-ku, Kobe, Hyogo 651-2196, Japan


Abstract: A new education system for students of art and design is proposed, which has been applied in the course "Introduction to the Theory of Design" at Kobe Design University. In this course student have experiences to observe geometrical structures and natural phenomena, so that they have a rich culture and a strong motivation to art creation. In the course of one year about thirteen topics are prepared, such as Symmetry and Kaleidoscope, Folding Structures, Time and Rhythm, etc. The class of each topic is composed of a lecture, exercises, experiments and a creative work based on these experiences. In this article the policy of this course and some of topics are introduced along with students artworks. Some comments are given on the interaction of science and art based on the author's impression, which he got during this course.


Keywords: science, art, design, educational system, natural phenomena, geometrical structures


1. Introduction


   The present author has been engaged in managing the course "Introduction to the Theory of Design" since 2004 at Kobe Design University. This course is aimed at encouraging graduate students of art and design to have a wide view of science and art through both scientific and creative activities within the same class. This policy is set up according to this author's opinion on the relation between the science and the art, as explained below.

The Science is an activity to construct concepts and natural laws from real objects and real phenomena. On the other hand, the art is an activity to create real objects based on the concepts and desires in the brains of artists. The technology is similar to the art since it has the same orientation as that of the art, i.e. from concepts to production of real objects (machines, materials, etc). This relation between science and art/technology is illustrated as a diagram shown in Fig. 1. They are different only in orientations between objects and concepts.









In this course students have experiences of both of these orientations; one is a  lecture including exercises of geometrical structures and experiments of natural phenomena and another is a creative work. When a creative work takes too much time to be finished within the class, it is left for homework.

In this course fourteen topics are prepared, which are classified into five categories arranged to a hierarchy as shown in Fig. 1 along with corresponding topics. The two topics, ratio and spiral, are combined with a key concept of “golden ratio”.













Fig. 2  Hierarchy of categories and topics of the workshops.



As shown in Fig. 2, the lowest level is the basic concepts to understand the nature and geometrical structures. The next lowest level is concerned to basic shapes made of lines and surfaces. Above this level come the spatial structures as combinations of basic shapes. The next higher level is understanding of natural phenomena through experiments, which appear often as temporal developments. Finally, at the highest level students consider about a problem, how functions of objects are linked to their shapes. Important factors in the choice of topics are that they should attract students' interests and that exercises and experiments can be prepared without difficulty.

Of course, choice of topics may depend on teacher’s career and interest, and may change after a few years. In fact, a new topic “Structural color and polarized light” is being prepared now.

The results of this course is reported as publications within the author's university (Takaki, 2004, 2005, 2006), which will be sent to those who are interested in this activity.

   In the next section brief explanations of some topics are given along with students’ works. In section 3 this author’s comment is given on how interaction of science and art will be attained through this educational activity.



2. Explanations of Some Topics


2.1 Symmetry and Kaleidoscope

   There are a variety of ways to become familiar to the concept of symmetry. One of them is to play with mirror images, and the kaleidoscope provides us a good experience. The purpose of this topic is to understand how mirror images are produced and how this mechanism is applied to the kaleidoscope.

Students learn first about the images produced in two mirrors intersecting with angles of 60, 72, 90, 120 degrees. The cases of 90 and 120 degrees are shown in Fig. 3(a) and (b), respectively. In the case of 90 degree they learn that the "image 3" in the figure is produced through twice reflections, and that it can be looked upon as a secondary mirror image of the "image 1" or that of the "image 2". These secondary images coincide each other and no inconsistency occurs in mirror images. At this stage students have an exercise to draw images in the case of the intersection angle of 60 degree, which allow consistent images also.



Fig. 3  Images due to two intersecting mirrors. (a) Case of angle of 90 degree, where "image 3" is a secondary image of "image 1" and also that of "image 2".

(b) Case of 120 degree, the secondary image of "image 1" does not coincide with "image 2".


On the other hand, in the case of 120 degree, the secondary image of "image 1" does not coincide with the "image 2". As a result, if we try to observe the image 2, we see different images (direct image of the object or the secondary image of "image 1") according to the positions of eyes. This inconsistent situation is met also in the case of 72 degree, which can be confirmed by an exercise of drawing images. This kind of inconsistency occurs when the intersection angle of two mirrors is a division of 360 degree by odd numbers.

After these exercises students make a simple mirror system by connecting two mirrors at their edges by the use of adhesive tape. With this system they can confirm what they have learned through lecture and exercise. By the way they have an exercise to draw images for the conventional kaleidoscope of triangular tube. Through these exercises students will be convinced that a combination of angles, which are divisions of 360 degree by even numbers, allows a proper design of kaleidoscope.

Next, students challenge to build up so called "polyhedral kaleidoscope", which is made of a conical configuration of three mirror. In order to have a basic understanding of this kaleidoscope, an idea of geodesic polyhedra is introduced, which are produced through the following processes:


1) Let a sphere contact from outside to one of regular polyhedra.

2) Put a light source at the center of the sphere and project all edges of the regular polyhedra onto the sphere.

3) Extend all projected edges to great circles.


Then, we have a division of spherical surface into equal spherical triangles, which is called geodesic polyhedra. There are four types of geodesic polyhedra as shown in Fig. 4, where geodesic 48-hedron is produced from a superposition of octahedron and cubic. Students are suggested to build these geodesic polyhedra by the use of styrofoam sphere and rubber bands, as shown in Fig. 5.



Fig. 4  Geodesic polyhedra and numbers of great circles producing them

(reproduced from "Encyclopedia of Forms", (Takaki, 2003)). The hatched

section is used for "Pentakis" by C. Schwabe.



Fig. 5  Models of geodesic polyhedra. (a) through (d) correspond to

the figures in Fig. 4 in this order. One section of these polyhedra or

a combination of two sections constitutes a conical mirror system

for polyhedral kaleidoscope.



One triangle section of a geodesic polyhedron and the center of sphere constitutes a triangular cone. If this cone is made of mirror plates with mirror surface directed inside and an object is inserted in this cone, it shows an interesting optical effects and produces a finite group of images. This mirror combination is called "polyhedral kaleidoscope". However, in order to prepare three triangular mirror plates for constructing this kaleidoscope, we must know the vertex angles of these plates which gather at the vertex of the cone. These angles are given in Table 1.


              Table 1. Angles concerned to three triangular plates for constructing

                   polyhedral kaleidoscope.




geodesic polyhedra angles between side faces                         vertex angles of side faces


geodesic octahedron                 90              90              90                                 90              90              90

geodesic 24-hedron                   90              60              60                                 70.5           54.75        54.75

geodesic 48-hedron                  90              60              45                                 54.75        45              35.25

geodesic 120-hedron                 90              60              36                                 37.4           31.7           20.9



The simplest polyhedral kaleidoscope is made from a section of geodesic octahedron. It is made of three mirrors perpendicular to each other. Students constructed kaleidoscopes of this type by inserting objects as they liked, which are shown in Fig. 6. Another type of kaleidoscope produced in this course was that based on the combination of two sections in geodesic 120-hedron (hatched section in Fig. 4. This kaleidoscope has intersection angles of 60, 60 and 72 degrees, and is named "Pentakis" by Caspar Schwabe who created it (Schwabe & Ishiguro, 2006). He was invited to make a workshop of kaleidoscope for this course. Artworks of Pentakis by students are shown in Fig. 7.






Fig. 6  Octahedral kaleidoscopes created by (a) T. Shiozaki,

(b) R. Fazam, (c) A. Imazu, (d) H. Matsui.






Fig. 7  Pentakis created by (a) S.-R. Kim, (b) K. Torakuma,

(c) Y. Ezaki under the guidance of Prof. C. Schwabe.


   The third type of kaleidoscope applied in this course is based on the combination of two sections of the geodesic 24-hedron, which is shown by a triangle with thick edges in Fig. 5(b). This kaleidoscope has intersection angles of 60, 60 and 120 degrees. The three mirror plates for this kaleidoscope are easily prepared. Cut along two diagonals of a rectangular plate with edge ratio 1 : 2 into four triangles, connect two larger triangles to form a rhombus. The larger angle of the rhombus is 109.5 degree, i.e. the Maraldi's angle, which is the double of 54.75 degree appearing in the Table 1. Artworks of this kaleidoscope (this author has not found a good name for this kaleidoscope) created by students are shown in Fig. 8.






Fig. 8  Kaleidoscopes based on the geodesic 24-hedron

by (a) D. McDermott, (b) H. Nishiyama (another plate is added),

(c) H. Yasumori, (d) M. Liu.


2.2  Space Division

   In this topic after general introductions of periodic tiling by polygons and random tiling based on the Collins lattice (arrangement of squares and regular triangles) a workshop of a quasi-crystal tiling is made.

The concept of quasi-crystal is explained first by the use of a 1D model, i.e. a sequence of characters "L" and "S" with deterministic growth rules: SL and LSL. According to this rule the growth of sequence is obtained deterministically, as follows.




This sequence itself acts as a motivation of creation. Examples of students' works are shown in Fig. 9.



Fig. 9  Students' artworks based on the quasi-crystal sequence, by

(a) Q.-N. Chang, (b) J. V. Rigoni-Kobayashi (sound based on the quasi-

crystal rhythm).



   As a workshop of quasi-crystal tiling the Penrose tiling by the use of two kinds of rhombi is applied. Small pieces of rhombi, as shown in Fig. 10(a), are given to students.  These rhombi have signs of arrows on their edges, and these signs must be matched in tiling. Students make a decagon with a flower pattern (Fig. 10(b)), then they are suggested to extend it to a tandem shape while respecting the tiling rule, i.e. arrow signs should be matched (Fig. 9(c)).




Fig. 10  Workshop of Penrose tiling. (a) Two kinds of rhombi for tiling,

(b) the first exercise to make a decagon, (c) the second exercise to extend

the decagon to a tandem of decagons.



This way of tiling can be continued to a larger pattern, but it takes much time. Therefore, a workshop to construct a large size pattern is made by the use of two kinds of decagons corresponding to each of tandem shown in Fig, 10(c). Arrangement of these decagons while allowing overlapping leads to the Penrose tiling. A scene in the class is shown in Fig. 11(a), and a result of tiling is shown in Fig. 11(b).




Fig.11  Workshop of Penrose tiling, (a) a scene in the class,

(b) a completed tiling for exhibition by Y.-P. Ren and W.-J. Li.


There are variety of problems for packing of 3D space by polyhedra. In the class only those by the rhombic dodecahedron and by the Kelvin's body (truncated octahedron) are treated, because they are relatively simple body for space packing. Especially, the former is related to the honeycomb structure, and the latter is considered to be a body, many congruent bodies of which fill the space with the least interfacial area. Recently, Weaire (1996) and Weaire & Phelan (1994) found another type of packing with less interfacial area, where eight polyhedra of equal volume (not congruent) constitute a unit of packing. However, this story is too difficult for workshop, and it is noted only that this packing is applied to the design of a building for Olympic 2008 in Beijing, China.

As for the rhombic dodecahedron students make an experiment to produce this body by pressing closely packed spheres of paper clay. This process is shown in Fig. 12. After this experiment students take out the central clay and measure the angle of the rhombus on the dodecahedron. If the experiment is made carefully (clay spheres should be pressed with equal pressure from all sides), the Maraldi's angle 109.5 degree will be confirmed, which was found within the honeycomb in 17c. by Maraldi.








Fig. 12  An experiment to produce a rhombic dodecahedron. From (a)

through (d): make a close packing of equal clay sphere on the palm and

press it, (e) measure the angle of rhombus to confirm the Maraldi's angle.


As for the Kelvin's body, students make many of it by paper and confirm that these bodies fill the space without gap (Fig. 13). They convince themselves of the small interfacial area from the fact that this shape is near to that of sphere. Students' artworks inspired by these workshops are shown in Fig. 14.



Fig. 13  Packing of Kelvin's body made of paper.





Fig. 14  Students' artwork inspired by the workshops of space division.

(a) Application of honeycomb structure by R. Kinoshita, (b) paper craft

imitating the packing of Kelvin's bodies by Y. Wada (he got a hint in a book

of Londenberg (1972)), (c) construction of egg cases, which is similar to the

the packing of Kelvin's bodies, by R.S. Techiera Rodrigues and P. Luo.


2.3 Growth Forms

   Growth form is a form of an object which appears when the object is growing under an inequilibrium condition. Typical examples of growth forms are the snow crystal and the aggregation of ions in a solution. Opposite concept of the growth form is the equilibrium form, which appears in a mechanical or a thermal equilibrium condition, its typical example being the forms of soap film and the catenary.

   Some growth forms, as given above as examples, have attractive dendrite shapes and are suitable for topics of workshop. In this course an experiment of aggregation of silver ions and a simulation of growth of snow crystal are made. Through these experiences students are expected to acquire a basic idea of how objects are formed in the nature.

   The experiment of the ion aggregation is made in the following process.


1) Put a piece of filter paper or similar material in a small flat container and place a cupper wire of diameter 0.51 mm on the paper, where the wire can be deformed arbitrarily.

2) Add a small amount of an aqueous solution of AgNO3 (concentration of ca. 0.1 mol). 

3) Put a cover on the container so that the paper does not dry, and keep watching. The growth of an aggregate can be observed better by the use of a magnifier lens.


   An example of experimental results is shown in Fig. 15. A fine branching structure is seen to grow from the cupper wire. This reaction is caused by the larger ionization tendency of the cupper than that of silver, so that cupper become ions and is solved into the water while the silver ions become metal silver. The cupper ions often produce the stain, which cover the metal silver. This reaction is affected by the property of paper and the pollution of water.



Fig. 15  Aggregation of silver ions growing from the cupper wire, after

(a) 10 min. and (b) 250 min. The diameter of the cupper ring was 15 mm.


The mechanism of formation of dendrite shape is understood in terms of diffusion-limited aggregation. When silver ions are transported by diffusion from far part of solution to the aggregate from, the rate of transport is larger to the tips of aggregate, hence the branching is automatically accelerated. Patterns of this silver aggregation are beautiful enough to be applied to art creation. Two artworks are shown in Fig. 16, which were created for exhibition after the workshop.



Fig. 16  Artworks created by applying aggregation of silver ions by

(a) By J. Xu, D.-B. Yao, G.-R. Li and M. Liu (students of Kobe Design

University) (b) R. Takaki.


    The snow crystal is produced in the atmosphere with temperature lower than 0 degree Celsius and with over-saturation condition. The growth mode of crystal has been investigated by Nakaya (1951, 1954) and Kobayashi (1961). According to their results crystals have various shapes according to these atmospheric conditions. In particular, in the temperature region –10–20 degree the crystal has a shape of thin hexagonal plate, and the degree of over-saturation gives a further modification so that the crystal takes a shape of simple hexagonal plate in the lower over-saturation (Fig. 17(a)) while it takes a complicated dendrite shape in the higher over-saturation (Fig. 17(b)). In the other temperature regions, the crystal shapes are either needle, hexagonal column or a hexagonal cup (Fig. 17(c)).


Fig. 17  Typical shapes of snow crystal (sketches by R. Takaki after

the photos in the book of Kuroda (1984). (a) Hexagonal plate,

(b) dendrite plate, (c) needle and hexagonal column.


   In the class of this course, after students have learned a basic idea of snow crystal formation, they let a snow crystal grow by a manual simulation, i.e. by the use of a pencil and a die. The die is necessary to simulate a situation that a snow flake experiences various atmospheric conditions randomly while it falls down. In the simulation students use a section paper, whose axes intersect with angles 60 degree and whose total shape is a wedge with vertex angle 30 degree (see Fig. 18).


Fig. 18 Section paper for simulation of snow crystal growth. After the simulation is over, its photocopies

and their inverted copies are gathered to from a snow crystal of six-fold symmetry.


Fig. 19 Three growth modes in simulation of snow crystal growth. (a) For pip 1 or 2, extend the tips,

(b) for pip 3 or 4, extend tips and add side branches, (c) for pip 5 or 6, cover with one layer.


The process of simulation is given below (see Fig. 19 also).  


1) Draw an initial crystal at the vertex of the section paper, as shown in Fig. 18.

2) Throw a die and choose one of the three growth modes according to the pip of die:

    Pip 1 or 2: extend the tip in its direction.

    Pip 3 or 4: extend the tip or the convex corner in its direction and add two side


    Pip 5 or 6: cover the crystal with one layer.

3) When the main axis (left end of the section paper) has grown to the top of the section

paper, stop the simulation, make photocopies and complete the crystal shape.


   Some results of simulation are shown in Fig. 20. Some students finished the artwork as handmade (Fig. 20(a)), while others input the results into a software for illustration (Fig. 20(b)). Fig. 20(c) is a scene in an exhibition, where students made a large transparent panel on which simulated snow crystals were pasted.





Fig. 20  Results of the simulation of snow crystal growth. Snow crystals

(a) drawn by scratching on a plastic plate by J.-S. Park, (b) drawn by a

software by W.-J. Li, (c) exhibited as a transparent panel by J. Xu, D.-B. Yao,

G.-R. Li and M. Liu.



3. Concluding Remarks


   Through the experience of the present author since 2004 to manage this course he has come to have an impression that students of art and design are originally very much interested in observing natural phenomena and playing with mathematical games. They certainly enjoy this course and seem to get stimulation for creative activities from experiments of natural phenomena and exercises of geometrical structures. The present author has also enjoyed observing their artworks created in this course.

The outcome of this course lets this author have an idea of strategy for effective interaction between science and art. If a good system of education of this kind is established, students of art and design would become familiar to scientific concepts and would try to apply them to their artworks. It may open a new category of art, where science and art are connected stronger than ever. Recently, application of modern media, such as computer, laser, electric circuit, etc., has become popular among artists. However, many of their activities seem to be just to make use of these media as tools of creation and not to be based on scientific mind, which should be associated with a motivation to get some finding in natural phenomena. This motivation is considered to be necessary for interaction of science and art in true sense. The present author believes that results of this course will give a trigger to development of an educational system which enables this interaction. He will be even happier, if students of science and technology begin creating artworks based on their own scientific results.

   A note is given here which is necessary in managing this kind of courses. Students should have a certain degree of freedom in the process of experiments and exercises, such as to fix precise experimental procedures or to choose specimen for measurement. Thus, they are encouraged to consider the processes scientifically and to go further beyond subjective perception of the nature, which is expected to activate the desire of creation.

   At present, however, no reliable evidence is available to show that this course has certainly given positive effects to students. The present author has a confidence on it only through comments by students, which were expressed in a questionnaire as written below.


  * Forms observed in the course, such as soap films and spirals, are attractive.

  * We can get stimulation for design from the topics of the course.

  * We can learn through playing.

  * Foreign students do not feel a wall of language.

  * We have realized that the art and design are common among the world.  


   Another good news for this author is that one of students, Carlos A.M. Hoyos who took this course in 2004, began constructing his own course in a university of Singapore (Hoyos, 2006). It is similar to this author’s course, but is more specialized to bio-mimicry, i.e. to apply biological mechanisms to design.

   The present author considers that communication and discussion are important among those who are interested in developing a road to closer interaction between  science and art. Therefore, he is always ready to talk about various topics concerned to this problem.




   The present author would like to express his cordial thanks to Professor Slavik Jablan for inviting submission of this article. He also thanks students of Kobe Design University for their cooperation in the course “Introduction to the theory of design”.




Hoyos C. A. M., 2006, private communication through a preliminary report for doctor thesis.

Kobayashi, T., 1961, Phil. Mag., Vol. 6, 1363-1370.

Kuroda, T., 1984, The Crystal is Living, Saiensu-sha. [in Japanese]

Londenberg, K., 1972, Papier und Form, Scherpe Verlag Prefeld.

Nakaya, U., 1951, Compendium of Meteorol., Am. Meteorol. Soc.

Nakaya, U., 1954, Snow Crystals - Natural and Artificial, Harvard Univ. Press.

Schwabe, C. and Ishiguro, A., 2006, Geometric Art, Kousakusha Co. [in Japanese]

Takaki, R., 2004, 2005, 2006, Introduction to the theory of design, (reports on the course), Kobe Design University.

Takaki, R., ed., 2003, Encyclopedia of Forms, Maruzen Co. [in Japanese]

Weaire, D., 1996, The Kelvin Problem, Taylor and Francis, London.

Weaire, D. and Phelan, R.,1994, Philosophical Magazine Letters, 70, 345-350