Catalyst Conversations: Atoms. Geometry. Algorithms.

December 15, 2022
Event Types
Talk / Lecture
MIT Community
Collage of purple and blue atom sculptures and graphics.

Image courtesy Catalyst Conversations. 

Bartos Theater, 20 Ames Street Building E15, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139
Day & Time
Free, but registration required.

Tess Smidt
Erik Demaine

In partnership with Catalyst Conversations, the List Visual Arts Center presents Atoms. Geometry. Algorithms. Gain insight on the importance of iteration and ways of capturing data while exploring the parallels between science and art. 

Speakers Tess Smidt and Erik Demaine share a relationship to both science and art. They will address the many interests that they each pursue in their respective practices. Their passion for what they do is guided by their openness to working across the (sometime) borders between science and art.

The research group Smidt heads, The Atomic Architects, works at the intersection of physics, geometry, and machine learning to design algorithms that aid in the understanding and design of physical systems. As an undergraduate, Smidt designed the Cosmic Ray Chandeliers, a science-art installation located on MIT’s campus. The Chandeliers illuminate upon detecting particles, called muons, created in cosmic ray showers. As in other projects, she demonstrates her deep knowledge and adventurness.

Demaine’s interest in and work with Origami along with Martin Demaine is well known. He says “My favorite type of results are universality results which prove that, in a certain model of folding, everything is possible. Typically, they come with an efficient algorithm for finding the folding; pure existential proofs are rare. If we cannot hope to fold everything, the next best thing is to have an efficient (polynomial) algorithm, both for detecting whether an object is foldable, and if so, for finding an efficient folding.”

This program is co-presented with Catalyst Conversations, an organization that leads provocative conversations between artists, scientists, and the public. Video recording will be available at a later date. 


Tess Smidt is an Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. Tess earned her SB in Physics from MIT in 2012 and her PhD in Physics from the University of California, Berkeley in 2018. Her research focuses on machine learning that incorporates physical and geometric constraints, with applications to materials design. Prior to joining the MIT EECS faculty, she was the 2018 Alvarez Postdoctoral Fellow in Computing Sciences at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a Software Engineering Intern on the Google Accelerated Sciences team where she developed Euclidean symmetry equivariant neural networks which naturally handle 3D geometry and geometric tensor data.

Erik Demaine is a Professor in Computer Science at MIT. His research interests range throughout algorithms, from data structures for improving web searches to the geometry of understanding how proteins fold to the computational difficulty of playing games. He received a MacArthur Fellowship as a “computational geometer tackling and solving difficult problems related to folding and bending—moving readily between the theoretical and the playful, with a keen eye to revealing the former in the latter”. He appears in the origami documentaries Between the Folds and NOVA's The Origami Revolution. He cowrote a book about the theory of folding (Geometric Folding Algorithms), and a book about the computational complexity of games (Games, Puzzles, and Computation). His interests span the connections between mathematics and art, including curved-crease sculptures in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Renwick Gallery in the Smithsonian.