Radiolaria – our latest web-based design app is now available!

Radiolaria, our latest web-based design app is now available! Radiolaria lets you manipulate a web of connected cells to create a huge variety of biologically-inspired patterns.

Each object you create starts as a basic hexagonal mesh which you can change as much, or as little, as you want with a variety of tools. Choose a sharp, geometric look or a rounded, more organic style. Use attractive and repulsive forces to disrupt the pattern’s initial symmetry, or give it a twist with spiraling forces. Click inside any cell to subdivide it into three smaller cells — those smaller cells can even be further subdivided to add more intricate detail to your design.

Your digital designs can be turned into real-world jewelry, housewares, or decorations made from steel, bamboo, or felt. Play around! And make sure to save your creations so you can revisit and share them, digitally or physically. Get started at

Back story
We released the first version of our Radiolaria software in 2007 as a Processing applet on our website. The tool was our first effort to engage others in our design process: a way of sharing the cool tools we were creating for ourselves to design with visitors to our website. The applet functioned more as proof of concept than anything else, as few people ever used it to purchase designs. Our in house version of the software has continued to develop over the past 5 years and today we bring the latest version to the web. I feel like we’ve “grown up” a lot since we released the original app and the internet has too. This version of Radiolaria is the most feature rich, user friendly and powerful of any we’ve made so far…and it runs entirely in the browser! Making something like this wouldn’t have been possible for us or the internet 5 years ago.

What can you make?

lasercut bamboo material samples

You can make 4 types of product with Radiolaria: earrings, necklaces, trivets/coasters, and art objects. In 4 materials: stainless steel, 24kt gold plated stainless steel, bamboo plywood, black wool felt. Earrings and necklaces can be made in the stainless steel and gold only. Trivets and coasters can be made in bamboo plywood and wool felt only. Art object is our catch all term for making an abstract thing. You can make your abstract thing any material you like.

stainless steel material samples
stainless steel material samples

The materials we’ve chosen for this app are eco-friendly. Bamboo plywood and wool felt are both beautiful renewable materials made from natural fibers. And our stainless steel is composed of 60% recycled steel and is 100% recyclable.

We’re also working on some larger scale options for what you can make with the app…including furniture! Hopefully, we’ll have that integrated soon.

How long does it take to make?
The bamboo and wool designs are made in our studio in Somerville, MA and take 1 week to make. The stainless steel and gold plated designs take us 3 weeks to make. They are photochemically etched in Minnesota.

Radiolaria – what are they?

Radiolaria drawings by Ernst Haeckel
Radiolaria are microscopic single celled organisms that live in the ocean. Each radiolarian builds a unique skeleton of silica that extends from and surrounds its cell membrane. The form of these skeletons varies from species to species but they are generally composed of different scales of pores and spines. The skeleton provides protection while it floats freely through the ocean and also serves as an armature for the extension of tentacle-like pseudopods which collect food. These skeletons, called ‘tests’, have many fascinating properties: they are extremely beautiful 3-dimensional structures, they use minimal material to enclose a large volume, and they are synthesized and “printed” by a unicellular organism.

Our Radiolaria app attempts to mimic the patterns seen in radiolarian structures by creating a deforming mesh of hexagons. The deformations are controlled by the user by physical simulation: each line acts as a spring, pulling neighboring lines. You can add forces and subdivide cells to sculpt the mesh.

What are you making?
Here are some designs we’ve been making with the app. We want to see what you will make, tweet your designs @nervous_system!

Did you think I was kidding when I said the original apps were kind of terrible. I wasn’t. Have a look

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