A 90’ long liquid crystal sculpture in the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences interprets natural phenomena.

When planning its 2012 expansion, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences decided that it wanted a major artwork to greet visitors entering the four story-atrium of its new Nature Research Center. The facility would be a hybrid research hub, visitor destination, and laboratory, trafficked by scientists, tourists, educators, and students. The artwork would serve both to impress visitors to the Nature Research Center, and as an opportunity to show science in action.

The museum commissioned Patterned by Nature, a permanent kinetic sculpture composed of 3,600 liquid crystal elements, spanning 90 feet. Part of a collaborative effort with Sosolimited, Plebian Design, and Hypersonic, Patterned by Nature was a massive undertaking. Patten Studio designed, fabricated and assembled the electronics that allow Patterned by Nature’s liquid crystal mosaic to display moving images in patterns representative of phenomena that repeat on different scales in the natural world. A key reason why these patterns repeat is that organisms and phenomena at different scales are all subject to the same physical laws. By showing these patterns in an abstract, low-resolution form, Patterned by Nature exposes and celebrates their mathematical simplicity.

The sculpture itself does not emit light. Rather, each tile is embedded with custom software designed by Patten Studio that allows it to vary in opacity, selectively filtering the natural light pouring into the Nature Research Center atrium. Consequently, Patterned by Nature consumes less than 75 watts of power, about the same as a household light bulb.

When the Nature Research Center opened at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in 2012, the Museum became the most visited cultural attraction in North Carolina, with annual attendance exceeding 1.2 million people. Patterned by Nature was lauded by media and museum goers for its integration of design, architecture, technology, and nature. The Museum continues to expand and thrive, receiving the National Medal for Museum and Library Service in 2014, the nation’s highest honor awarded to institutions for exceptional services provided to their communities.

Patten Studio
Electronics, Firmware and Driver Software
  • North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
  • SOSO Limited
    Concept, Design, Content Design
  • Plebian Design
    Concept, Design, Content Design, Engineering, Installation
  • Hypersonic
    Concept, Design, Engineering, Fabrication, Installation
  • Any Merriell
  • North Carolina Museum
  • ISTASE Rigging
  • Patriot Building
    Company Installation
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