Unusual Configuration Spaces

September 12-16, 2016

This workshop will bring together researchers interested in a panoply of unusual configuration spaces, arising in applied fields or in plausible models, to look for similarities or creative tensions between them.

Classical configuration spaces in mechanics are spaces of tuples of material points in Euclidean 3D space, sometimes constrained by the mutual distances or just precluding coincidences of any two particles. The no-k-equal configuration spaces and their generalizations relax the no-coincidence conditions allowing some number (greater than 1) of points to coincide. Linkages and origami (hinged structures) represent another well-established class of configuration spaces. Despite many spectacular results on the topology and geometry of the configuration (or moduli) spaces of such mechanical constructions, many natural questions are hard and remain unanswered. In general, neither the topology (even for generic structures), nor singularities of the configuration spaces are known beyond the simplest examples. Beyond serial linkages (robot arms), configuration spaces in robotics are the source of many unsolved questions, such as the tantalizing question concerns caging a polygonal 2D shape by a finite collection of pointlike "fingers". Even more exotic are the configuration spaces of hard balls, arising from the archetypal model of statistical physics, Boltzmann gas. Their topology has not been addressed in any detail until very recently, and many basic questions such as the connectivity of the configuration spaces of the hard balls in the "gaseous" regime are unknown.

Along with the mathematical aspects, computational experimentation aspects will be highlighted, as well as applications ranging from path planning algorithms for robots, reconfiguration strategies for origami and protein folding.

Registration opens Spring 2015.

Kirigami Demonstrations

So far we've had two public do-it-yourself demonstrations of kirigami, at the DMD in Feb 2015 and for the Science Cafe series at World Live Cafe in April 2015. We'll update this page as more events are planned.


Gene Coleman & Ensemble N_JP with special guests Duo Yumeno, Dr. Shu Yang, Dr. Randall Kamien and Jenny Sabin.

November 7, 2014 @ Neighborhood House Theater, 20 N. American Street


Bowerbird and Soundfield are pleased to present the world premiere of three new works by composer and director Gene Coleman. The evening opens with presentations by architect and artist Jenny Sabin and two leading scientists from the University of Pennsylvania (Dr. Shu Yang and Dr. Randall Kamien). Together they will provide a fascinating glimpse into the world of cutting edge nano-to-macro scale technologies based on a very surprising source: Kirigami - the traditional Japanese art of folded and cut paper.

The night will feature "Kirigami I", commissioned by Chamber Music America and inspired by research being done by Sabin/Yang/Kamien; a new version of "9 Chains..." a music/ video work that explores the work and ideas of Buckminster Fuller during his years in Philadelphia; and "Systole I", a music/video work featuring the Magnetic Resonance Piano developed at the Excite Center of Drexel University.

Performing on the night is Ensemble N_JP, a chamber group dedicated to exploring the connections between contemporary and traditional forms of music by uniting outstanding traditional, experimental and contemporary classical musicians from Japan and the US.



Workshop on Foldable, Buildable, & Responsive Materials from the micro scale to the building scale

This was held on August 22-23, 2014 at the Glandt Forum, Singh Center at the University of Pennsylvania