Monday, December 22, 2014

Blake Williford and GA Tech's 'Drawing in Nature Class'

Blake Williford of GA Tech standing in front of his body of work studying 'nature's best jumpers' — frogs
This was the second year we were asked to participate in Lane Duncan and Jeannette Yen's 'Drawing in Nature' class at GA Tech. So far, each year the class came to the Garden for inspiration on aspects of nature that would be fun and interesting to explore artistically.

Overall, I have been incredibly impressed with the students. Not only their final projects and the amount of work that has clearly been invested — but by the specific aspects the students have chosen to explore. The relationship between leaves, shadows and water, for example — or the persistence of urban plants through cracks in a sidewalk.

Now, I may be biased, but the student that I was most impressed with is featured here in this article — Blake Williford, and his project exploring the structure of frogs as related to locomotion.

This photo does not do his art justice. These are beautiful pieces, some of which are futuristic technical drawings based on frog anatomy. 
It was great to meet and connect with Blake and enjoy his amazing work.
Blake's project introduction and summary was also very touching, so I thought I would include it here. Stay tuned for when the final projects will be featured in a Gallery Opening at GA Tech, sometime in March.

Blake wrote 'I have always admired frogs.  I used to catch tree frogs as a kid during the warm humid summers living in Florida.  I had all but forgotten about them until a trip to the botanical gardens sparked a renewed interest in this remarkable amphibian. I remember the good fortune of seeing a few moving around (like most reptiles, they spend most of their time sitting very still to conserve energy) and it sparked further interest in locomotion, and studying how these animals move.  I remembered that frogs are very good at a certain mode of locomotion – Jumping.  Some quick research led to the discovery that one of the very best jumpers, among not just all frogs, but all animals, is none other than the tree frog.  They can jump over 50 times their body length.  Surely there is something to be learned from one of nature’s best jumpers.
I first wanted to understand the structure of frogs, particularly their big, powerful, legs.  I was thinking from the inside out, so I first drew a frog skeleton.  I quickly realized after drawing it that a frog’s legs are designed to behave very much like a spring.  The bones are actually oriented that way and the frog’s resting position is one of very high potential energy in a squatted (compressed spring) position.
I then moved on to studying frog muscles, again, focusing on the legs.  This made me realize just how similar a frog’s legs are to a human’s legs.  They appear to have all the same bones and muscles, only they are proportioned differently, especially with relation to the overall body.  The legs are two thirds the length of the frog’s body and about a quarter of it’s overall mass.  I realized that a key factor in how frogs can jump so far is the way their feet and ankle are designed.  Their long toes stabilize the creature while the foot behaves much like an ankle or lower leg.  Meanwhile their lower leg and upper leg essentially act as two very powerful upper legs.
I proceeded to do gesture studies to really capture the frog’s jump in action.  This allowed me to see how the legs unfold and propel the frog forward.  From these I was able to do jump sequence studies to use for further insights.
I decided to spend some time on the “speculation” part of the project because I have always loved bio-inspired concepts and inventions like that of Da Vinci and those who have come after him.  The knowledge and understanding of how frogs jump can very useful in a number of fields, particularly biotechnology and robotics.  I’ve included several concepts drawn from the imagination and inspired by frogs. 
I was intentionally naïve about the technological breakthroughs necessary for such inventions, however technology like electrostatic polymers appears to be promising as artificial muscles for robots.  It is only a matter of time before we are able to fully reverse-engineer muscles using nanotechnology.  Studying frogs and their biomechanics may be helpful in this endeavor.  In the meantime I’ll be dreaming of all the things we can do when we get there.'