UVic Torch Alumni Magazine - Spring 2014

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Torch 2014 Spring_Torch 2014 Spring 2014-04-16 4:46 PM Page 8



Algorithms and Old Lace


Art meets science: Could bobbin lace patterns show up in wearable technology or synthetic organs?


“The most complex textile can’t be found at NASA or CERN. It can be found collecting dust on a coffee table. To me that’s a great waste which I hope to change by giving us much better control and understanding of how lace is designed,” says Computer Science PhD candidate — and bobbin lacemaker — Veronika Irvine. She sees lace, with its mathematical and geometric underpinnings, holding big potential for practical applications. Its patterns — delicate in appearance yet strong and durable — could form a network of conductive thread to connect sensors in wearable technology and smart textiles. Or they could be used to create a neural network in artificial muscles or organs. A former software developer, Irvine was in her early 20s when she was introduced to the process of making bobbin lace. “You need to solve logic and geometry problems, such as which threads to combine to make the next braid,” she says. “Recently I’ve been designing new patterns and the mathematical nature has become even more apparent.” In Irvine’s courses at UVic, she applied algorithms and data structures to problems in bobbin lace: “There’s potential for exploring new, possibly unsolved problems. It’s a relatively untapped area. I also experienced an improvement in my own meta-cognitive skills (with respect to math and computer algorithms) which really got me excited.” She’s inspired by Robert Lang and Erik Demaine, whose studies of the art and science of origami was featured in the award-winning documentary, Between the Folds. Lang’s mathematical model of origami crease patterns has been used to create intricate art pieces. It has also been applied to engineering problems, like how to fold a medical stent small enough so that it can travel through arteries before expanding in the place where it’s needed. “These two people are my heroes,” says Irvine. “I’m hoping to follow in their footsteps and shed some of the same light on my own art form.”