In his TED Talk showcasing his work at MIT's Self Assembly Lab, computational architect Skylar Tibbits does an excellent job of explaining the functional possibilities of programmable materials and four-dimensional printing - from structures that assemble themselves in space, to infrastructure that can adapt itself to changes in demand. But there is one property of these materials that he fails to mention: they can be truly beautiful in action.
But in this video by Dana Zelig, a masters student in industrial design at Jerusalem's Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, the beauty of these processes is placed front and center. Using nothing more than 12 sheets of shrinkable pre-stressed polystyrene taken from children's creativity sets, a home printer and an infra-red light, Zelig's "Traces" project has created a series of self-forming shapes that delicately transform in front of our eyes.
These programmable materials work thanks to the energy-absorbing properties of the black ink. When the sheet is placed under the infra-red light, the areas that have been printed on relax and expand faster than the white plastic, creating a stress gradient within the sheet that causes it to bend. Using the programming language Processing, Zelig was able to pre-determine the final shapes of the sheets. You can see more images of Zelig's Traces project at her Cargo Collective page.