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Fun with microbiology: Virus, the Beauty of the Beast

Hamish Todd offers Virus, the Beauty of the Beast, an interactive documentary about viruses. Viruses have protein shells made of patterns which can be explored mathematically, and this link to tiling theory and geometric shapes provides a mathematical interest for the piece.

Hamish is a former game designer, former teacher turned PhD student in computational biology. He says1:

While studying maths I had learned about viruses, and about their connection to Islamic art, which amazed me. I found it staggering that such beautiful things could surround us without most people being aware of it. I wanted to let people see it, and I knew that my game design skills could help me do that.

Apparently many viruses are arranged on what Hamish calls a ‘hexagons and pentagons’ structure (Caspar-Klug theory), and others have more exotic structures. Wikipedia says “most animal viruses are icosahedral or near-spherical with chiral icosahedral symmetry”, with other more complicated shapes also found.

As well as “interactive documentary”, Hamish calls the website an ‘explorable explanation’, which aims “to let laypeople play with the beautiful things that mathematicians and scientists spend their time with”. Overall, it seems like a nicely-produced series of interactive videos exploring an interesting topic. Give it a go!

More information

Virus, the Beauty of the Beast, the interactive documentary.

Virus, the Beauty of the Beast press pack.

A symmetry approach to viruses, an article at Plus.

  1. Actually, the press pack says – I can never quite bring myself to quote from press information as though the person has said it to me! []

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