COOPERMADE: Hoberman Sphere
After studying sculpture at The Cooper Union, artist and engineer Chuck Hoberman A’79 found himself wondering about the mechanics of geometry, and what makes forms work the way they do. It was just this line of thinking that led him to create what has become an iconic toy: the Hoberman Sphere.
Hoberman had wondered how he could build a structure that would change size but not proportion, and after several false starts, he devised a sort of scissor mechanism—two links connected by a pivot, creating four endpoints. Even as the links move, the angles of the endpoints in relation to each other stay constant. He used the pivoted links to build a sphere that could change size while keeping the same shape. The results are dramatic: a hand-held ball of tightly-packed linked plastic elements that suddenly blossoms into an airy, elegant globe many times greater in size. It retreats into compacted form with equal ease.
The first Hoberman Sphere was installed at Liberty Science Center in Jersey City with a motor that keeps the sphere toggling between its minimum diameter of 4.5 feet and maximum of 18 feet all day long. It was there that Hoberman, who after Cooper went on to study mechanical engineering at Columbia, noticed that children were fascinated by the sphere’s constant shape shifting, and that it would make an excellent toy. It first hit the shelves in 1995, and its mechanics have since led to myriad uses—a movable scrim at the 2002 Winter Olympics and a 4,000 square foot expanding video screen for U2’s 360˚ World Tour in 2009.
Now the Pierce Anderson Lecturer at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Hoberman has been studying the sculptural possibilities of origami, another topic that merges math, engineering, robotics, and art. He hopes his current research will have both macro and micro applications, including potential use as a medical device. He told Wired magazine, “"Most designed objects are static through their lifetime and eventually disposed of. I'm looking for a different angle on it, which is: What if those objects were dynamic and alive and in movement around us?"