The art of origami is serious business, especially when involves folding over 49,000 business cards as part of a three-dimensional representation of an enormously complex mathematical object. On September 20, USC Libraries unveiled an enormously intricate model of a newly discovered fractal called the Mosely Snowflake Sponge, designed by MIT-trained engineer Jeannine Mosely. At an enormous six feet tall, the thousands of cards making up the Sponge have been fashioned into cubes and paneled with USC’s red and gold school colors. This marks the first time that this object has been represented into the real world as an actual physical piece.
Most of us are familiar with fractals in their two-dimensional, computer-rendered images that recall colorful psychedelic patterns that seem to go on forever. To accomplish a giant, 3D model of the newly discovered form dubbed the Mosely Snowflake Sponge, Jeannine Mosely enlisted the help of director of the Institute of Figuring, Margaret Wertheim, along with the efforts of hundreds of volunteer math and origami enthusiasts. The Snowflake Sponge itself is a multi-layered and self-replicating figure that resembles a hollow cube with a corner removed. Mosely’s installation is a Level 3 fractal, using 18 base “Level 1” components to complete the structure.
Fractal math can seem simple and somewhat tedious, but as Wertheim told Wired, creating such an intricate object in real space was a difficult task. “Not only are we building a mathematical object that’s never been made before, [but] it’s a huge challenge of engineering,” she said. “How can you actually put this structure together?” After a bit of trial and error, the team settled on a strategy based on x and y models that used “basically Level 1s with a few cubes missing.” The entire project took seven months to complete with hundreds of students and volunteers folding, creating models, and assembling the business cards. The Mosely Sponge Snowflake will be on display at the USC Doheny Memorial Library along with a fractal math exhibit until the end of the year.