MIT Couple Fuse Computers and Biology into Fashion Jewelry
Nervous System founders Jesse Louis-Rosenberg (left) and Jessica Rosenkrantz (right, sporting one of her own creations).
CREDIT: Nervous System
Nervous Systems jewelry and accessories began with a very common story. Boy meets girl. Girl falls for boy. Boy and girl combine their knowledge of biology, architecture and computer programming to design fashionable accessories. OK, so maybe it′s not that common of a story.
Regardless, what began as flirtations in an MIT dorm has turned into a profitable company on the leading edge of a growing fashion trend. More and more independent designers are producing pieces with scientific content, and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg and Jessica Rosenkrantz take it a step further by actually using math and biology to produce the designs of their earrings, bracelets and necklaces. Each piece in their collection begins as a computer program designed to replicate a natural phenomenon, such as the branching of coral or fractal growth pattern of the veins in a leaf.
After taking their wares to the street in this summer′s Renegade Crafts Fair in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Louis-Rosenberg and Rosenkrantz spoke with InnovationNewsDaily about designing jewelry with a computer, making art with fluids and whether or not science actually sells.
InnovationNewsDaily: Jessica, you have a background in biology and architecture. Jesse, you studied computer science. How in the world did you both go from doing engineering at MIT to designing jewelry?
Jessica Rosenkrantz: I was studying architecture, and I would have these models I designed on the computer laying around my desk, and friends would come by and pick them up and say, "Oh, is this a bracelet." That's when I first got the idea.
Jesse Louis-Rosenberg: At the same time, I was in school studying math and computer science. I am more interested in the math side of things, how physical systems make order. But I was turned off by academia, and wanted to explore those interests in a more creative way.
Rosenkrantz: We lived in the same dorm, a couple doors down from each other. We were a couple, we were dating, and he saw the first pieces I designed and thought, "Hey, if Jessica can do this, I can do this, too, since I’m way better at programming than she is."
InnovationNewsDaily: How has your technical skill helped you succeed in fashion? And has coming from a technical background, as opposed to an arts background, caused any problems?
Rosenkrantz: Neither of us are particularly talented artists. Neither of us can draw or sculpt. So when I went into architecture, I knew I would have use computers to help me. Everything we make is generated by computer programs that we write. And all of the concepts I used in architecture involved using the ideas I learned in biology.
Louis-Rosenberg: Architecture has a very extreme focus on rigor, and on justifying what you’re doing. That leads to thoughtful design.
InnovationNewsDaily: Do people buy your pieces because science interests them?
Rosenkrantz: They’re reminiscent of nature, but not copies of nature. And that draws people in. It’s hard to say if that’s scientific, though, and people might be attracted to the new and bizarreness.
Louis-Rosenberg: We weren’t really aware of it when we first started. The fact that our stuff was successful was a really big surprise to us. One thing our process does that really resonates with people is that we create things that are not natural, are not a direct representation, but are ordered in a similar way that things do in nature. There’s only a small population that appreciates our work on the level of scientific processes.
Rosenkrantz: Yesterday, we got a tweet about how someone saw our product in a "Science Friday" video with Nina Tandon [a TED fellow and adjunct professor of Electrical Engineering at Cooper Union University]. I think we’ve also gotten some feedback from some biologists.
InnovationNewsDaily: What′s next for you guys? Do you plan on expanding into other areas of fashion?
Louis-Rosenberg: We really want to pursue some larger pieces, like installation. We’re also working on projects that are more on the experimental, science, side of things. We’re working on actual physical experiments.
Rosenkrantz: We're working on a machine that makes patterns. That's for a museum, though, it's not a piece of jewelry. It uses a computer-controlled system to create patterns on the fly by controlling the injection speed of fluids between two glass plates. Since the fluids are different viscosities, they create branching patterns at their interface. It′s three feet around, and about the thickness of a microscope slide. A computer model of the interaction will run alongside it.
Of course, once we have a computer simulation of something, it’s a good bet we’ll use it to make a product, and eventually, jewelry.