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HIV Fullerene Cone 1 (2013)

The Back Story and How This Sculpture was Made

During the course of creating the Power Supply Virus I learned about the shape of the HIV-1 viron which is contained within the envelope. The shape is a variation of the BuckminsterFullerene, otherwise known as a buckyball, or truncated icosahedron. Scientists Robert Curl, Harold Kroto and Richard Smalley were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996 for their discovery of a carbon molecule consisting of 60 or 70 atoms in the form of a buckeyball. The fullerene appears in popular culture in a number of places. Curl and Smalley are at Rice University in Houston, Texas where my parents met and my father got his undergraduate degree in biochemistry. Kroto will be the keynote speaker at the 2013 Bridges conference that celebrates the interaction with math, art and science.

The fullerene cone is a variation from the standard buckyball. While it retains exactly 12 pentagons, the HIV-1 variation has many more hexagons and forms into a cone shape, essentially it is a stretched out version of the truncated icosahedron.

It was an interesting shape and I thought that I could create a first version of it using hexagon tiles. However, I could not quite detect the specific locations of the seven pentagons on the top of the viron. So I approached one the authors of the Ganser (1999) paper, Wes Sundquist. I approached him since he was designated as the primary author and point of contact, but also because he was a coauthor of a paper that earlier identified the icosahedral symmetry of the HIV-1 envelope.

The authors were very helpful in providing additional graphical representations of the cone, but more importantly, Ganser provided the x,y,z coordinates of the shape. This was tremendously helpful. In addition, she identified publicly available molecular modeling software such as Visual Molecular Dynamics (VMD). Using this software, I was able to immediately view and interactively manipulate and examine the 3D shape. VMD provides numerous rendering options which enable one to highlight the atoms or molecules (points), bonds (edges), or faces with various colors, shapes and textures. It is very impressive.

At the same time I was developing 3D graphic capability that could be used on the web and to help construct the substrate. I was doing with VBA (Visual Basic for Applications for Microsoft products); not a higher end graphic package. This programming environment can be surprisingly powerful and flexible; I use it often in my line of work so it is my choice for taking a first crack at a graphics problem.

I was able to generate the code for the web-based graphics which you can see here.

And also generated graphs showing X-Y points for a given Z value; these graphs were used to cut out slices from MDF.

After cutting out slices from all three dimensions (XY, XZ and YZ) I then stacked the XY slices on a steel rod. I then used the XZ and YZ slices to round out the top and bottom. Then after filling in some gaps, I covered the substrate in plaster. After sanding it down, I taped all the hexagonal tiles together like a wig in order to refine the final shape and dimensions; more definition was needed to support the pentagons and the girth was to wide towards the small end.

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A look at the net just prior to adhering.
The substrate is taking shape, with pentagons marked for reference.
Trying the tiles on for size.
The adhesive is in place, moments before a disaster.
A sticky, adhesive mess.
Starting to take shape after a clean up.
After final clean up and grouting.
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