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More than shiny: Stanford's new sculpture by Alyson Shotz

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Even if I didn't know anything about what went into creating Three Fold, Stanford Medicine's new sculpture by Alyson Shotz, I'd love it. As I wrote in today's Inside Stanford Medicine, the 56-foot-long sculpture, which hangs from a ceiling in the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge, shimmers in an ever-changing array of iridescent colors. Pretty colors get me every time.

There's a lot more to the sculpture than pretty, though. Shotz is a widely respected artist. Her works, exhibited in prestigious museums like New York City's Guggenheim and DC's Hirshhorn, are engineering feats inspired by scientific concepts - this one, by a CAT scan. As Shotz tells it:

I was very interested to learn that CAT scans image by sections, using a penetrating wave. This seems quite relevant, as my work represents an imaging of space, and the wave illuminating the shape, in this case, is color: the varying wavelengths of light that the viewer will see reflecting off the sculpture.

Shotz has other interesting things to say in a Stanford video, above, where she describes how her creative process reminds her of protein folding:

Proteins achieve functionality when they go from a non-dimensional shape to a folded three-dimensional shape, which is fascinating to me because when I started these drawings the lines are actually non-dimensional and then I expand them out into three-dimensional surfaces which then become functional as sculpture.

While reporting the article I learned that the artwork was born on a computer. I found out that despite its gossamer appearance, it weighs more than 3,000 pounds. (It's made of about 10,000 pieces of custom-cut plastic, 600 pieces of aluminum and more than 20,000 screws.) And I learned the secret behind the pretty colors: dichroic-acrylic-coated plastic, which not only reflects light but refracts it.

Three Fold is being dedicated this week to the medical school's former dean Philip Pizzo, MD. If you're in the neighborhood, it's worth a look.

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