Small worlds

When I learned programming as a teenager, among the first things I wrote were crude simulations of planets moving in the gravity field of a virtual sun. I did not fully understand the physics behind them, nor did I know that I had implemented a simple Euler-integrator to solve a system of differential equations over time. The main thing that interested me was the fancy spiral patterns that appeared as graphical output. I spent hours varying the parameters of the system, adding more sources of gravity and observing how small variations of the underlying rules changed the trajectories of the planets, resulting in different graphical patterns.

When I met Brian Knep during a research visit at Harvard Medical School, he showed me how an infrared camera can be used to track a visitors movements, providing an interface between their bodies and a projected image. What fascinated me most about his work was that it very effectively blended a simulated world with reality. People who stepped into the image changed the behavior of a reaction diffusion system simulation, mimicking the influence of external stimuli on biological pattern formation. I instantly wanted to do something with that technology, but it took a few more years until i did…


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