Adam Barlev on Modular Origami, Raspberry Pi’s, and Intro to Mathematica

Adam Barlev on Modular Origami, Raspberry Pi’s, and Intro to Mathematica

Are you interested in the Intro to Mathematica workshop that’s coming up but have a few questions? Don’t be shy. Ask away! In the meantime, I asked Adam a few questions – both about his work and also about Mathematica in general.  This 3 hour introductory workshop is for all kinds. You may have little or lots of programming experience. There are no pre-requisites! The only real requirement for this workshop is a Raspberry Pi. VIVO has a few for use; however you should email Emily at education(at) to reserve yours. Otherwise, it’s probably a good idea to pick one up. You can find them at Lee’s Electronics on Main Street.

In addition to being a PhD student, Adam is the most active dodecahedron-maker I know. He is an artist and creates sprawling installations all over the Pacific Northwest. You can check out his work with The Symmetry Group on Tumblr.

As far as Mathematica goes, you might be wondering what you will learn in this 3-hour demonstration. Well, you’ll learn a bit more about what Mathematica is and how it works … and if all goes well, you will come out of the workshop with a really cool animated gif like this.

Read more about Adam and his work below:


1. Tell me a bit about your background. What kind of art do you do, and what do you build?

I  grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and moved to Vancouver in 2005. My educational background is a BSC in Chemistry with a minor in Biochemistry from UBC in 2008. I’m currently about 3 years into a PHD from the SFU chemistry department as well. I was also about a semester away from a math minor at UBC, and at UBC I mostly hung out with math undergrads at the math club. Yes, I was, for a short time, the social coordinator of the math club.

At a much younger age, probably still in grade school, I was introduced to origami by an art teacher. She lent me a book of the title “Multidimensional Transformations,” by Tomoko Fuse, about modular origami. I became obsessed with modular origami at various times in my life. When I was commuting from San Francisco to Berkeley every day, I would race myself at how many modules I could fold on the train. I know I sound like principal skinner here. Regardless, in the math club at UBC I met Tien Yin Yau, another person as obsessed with origami as I, and we developed new modules and new ways of using existing modules. Some of my models are still at UBC, or at my favorite Japanese restaurant. Growing up in the SF bay, I was exposed to the art of burningman at local warehouse parties, years before I was able to see it at the event itself. I’ve since gone to burningman 10 times, and have brought art installations 5 of those years. The art I make combines my obsession with modular origami and CNC lasercutting. By lasercutting a crease pattern into plastic, I developed a technique that produces large-scale origami that has a longer shelf life than paper.

2. Why should I register for this introductory course? What will I learn?

There isn’t enough time in the course to get really deep into Mathematica, but its an introduction that should allow a new user to explore on their own. Its extremely well documented. Keep in mind, Mathematica costs about $2000, but now if you have a raspberry pi, you can get all the power of Mathematica for free.


3. If I were to sign up for this workshop, what should I bring?

VIVO has a certain number of raspberry pi’s, but if you have one already, please bring your own. If you bring an 8gb microSD card, I can clone a raspian onto it which has Mathematica already installed. This will save you about 3 hours of installation time.

4. How did you discover Mathematica, and how do you plan on using it? (or how do you use it for your art if you already do?)

I originally became aware of Mathematica around the release of Steven Wolframs controversial tome “A New Kind of Science.” It’s a book, which, while full of interesting ideas, hasn’t had quite the impact he intended. Steven Wolfram described conceiving of Mathematica in his first life as a boy genius particle physicist as a tool to help automate the laborious computations of symbolic Feynman diagrams. In his book, Steven Wolfram eschews the tedium of physical science, instead running simulations of cellular automata from the comfort of his laptop.

While it has a million uses, I use Mathematica like a notepad to quickly prototype new ideas and to generate graphics. Specifically I asked the question, what shapes can I make by connecting dodecahedrons face to face? Because of all the odd angles involved, when I tried doing it in my head I kept getting it wrong. Mathematica allowed me to explore thousands of possible designs, and I used it to design the art I took to Burningman and Bass Coast.


5. How much experience do you have with programming? Can you describe a bit more about what’s needed to take this intro course?

I have very little formal programming education, or knowledge of computer science in general. This is an advantage for a new Mathematica user. For example, Mathematica doesn’t require a user to specify data types, as I’ve found I had to with other programming languages. Mathematica can take care of those details on its back end, allowing the user to focus on creativity.

6. What’s up next for you?
I should really just buckle down and finish my chemistry Phd.



If you’re interested, don’t hesitate to sign up! The cost is only $25 for non-members and $20 for members. You can register now via eventbrite.


Pietro Sammarco is the Education Coordinator at VIVO. Talk to him if you want to host or attend a workshop, or want to get involved in a special project. In addition to running the education department at VIVO, he also teaches audio production, records bands, does music and sound for film, DJ's karaoke, and performs music with several groups.