Art’s place in the science world

This is a guest blog post from Madlen Guber­nick, SSH’17, an inter­na­tional affairs major with a double minor in jour­nalism and photography.

As a non-​​science stu­dent at North­eastern, terms such as tissue engi­neering and bio­com­pat­ible scaf­fold used to mean nothing to me. When I was approached by the Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design to attend a lun­cheon in November in which these terms would be dis­cussed, I was a bit per­plexed. You want me, a jour­nalism and inter­na­tional affairs stu­dent, to cover a sci­ence meeting? Despite my ini­tial hes­i­ta­tion, the oppor­tu­nity pro­vided me great insight into the world of tissue engi­neering and bio­com­pat­ible scaf­folds, two terms that now make a lot more sense to me.

This event also intro­duced me to the research of Carol Liv­er­more, an asso­ciate pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Mechan­ical and Indus­trial Engi­neering.

The lun­cheon included world-​​renowned origami artist Paul Jackson, indus­trial designer Theio Brunner, and North­eastern fac­ulty and staff. Liv­er­more dis­cussed the role of art in the sci­ence world—more specif­i­cally, the impor­tance of origami in sci­en­tific research. For those art, busi­ness, math, and com­puter stu­dents out there, sci­en­tists are using the ancient Japanese art of paper folding to mimic folds of organ and liver tissue, applying a variety of pres­sures to the origami and then noting the paper’s reac­tion. Liv­er­more is doing this work right here on campus, along­side North­eastern students.

After the lun­cheon, I remained fas­ci­nated by Livermore’s research, so I fol­lowed up with her to learn more. We dis­cussed how exactly she got involved with origami research. “This is my first foray into bringing art into my research,” said Liv­er­more, whose exper­tise is in microsystems.

If you need an organ trans­plant, you usu­ally have to wait for a suit­able donor to die,” she said, “Wouldn’t it be better if you could have a replace­ment organ, or tissue, grown to order from your own cells?” Liv­er­more and her stu­dents are working toward this goal with the sup­port of grant funding from the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion and the Air Force Office of Sci­en­tific Research.

Prior to working with origami, Liv­er­more con­sid­ered cre­ating tis­sues as if they were poster paper. “My first idea was to roll up a two-​​dimensional, cell-​​patterned sheet, like a cin­namon roll,” Liv­er­more said. “The problem with that is familiar to any­body who’s ever rolled a poster. If the rolling angle isn’t per­fect, it comes out wrong.”

During this state of frus­tra­tion, Liv­er­more saw that the NSF had requested the use of origami in sci­en­tific research and then had a thought: “It occurred to me that origami was a better solu­tion than rolling,” she said.

Liv­er­more has thus far dis­cov­ered a lot through her research by demon­strating basic orga­ni­za­tion of cells as well as the devel­op­ment of the first self-​​actuating folds. Her team has also used origami to demon­strate folds that repli­cate flow pat­ters of liver tissue.  Sci­ence stu­dents or not, we can all cel­e­brate the intro­duc­tion of art into the sci­ence world.