Superformula – where did you go?

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I guess it has been 3 or 4 years. My school organized an afternoon of lectures by interesting people from the design industry. Most of them were interesting indeed, but one of them really impressed me.

It was a presentation of Johan Gielis, an industrial engineer with a special interest in plant biotechnology and mathematics. The first 20 minutes of his presentation he explained his biological background and talked mainly about bamboo. About its specific design, comparing it with the shapes that flowers and starfishes have. He was fascinated with the way how they’re build and grow with mathematical precision.

Very interesting, but a bit off-topic we thought. But then he continued with the second – mathematical – part of his presentation. His search to understand the way these growing patterns made him discover something unique:


You’re right… a formula. A Superformula even. That’s how he liked to call it. Sounds a bit Shop-TV-isch, but it’s called that way because it’s based on the principle of Supercircles and SuperEllipses.

With this formula he made it possible to ’simulate’ all those natural forms and shapes he admired for so many years, just by changing some variables.

For example: when m=0, you get a perfect circle; when m=3 you get the shape of bamboo, … Changing the n-value makes the shapes more pinchy…

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