We are marine biologists, engineers, and architects from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. and study plankton from the oceans, especially radiolarians and diatoms. Their shells are made of the glassy silicate and are often described as extraordinarily beautiful, including in elaborate historical books such as Art Forms of Nature by Ernst Haeckel. In addition, there are many freely available microscopic images. Search a bit yourself, it's worth it!

However, diatoms and radiolarians have no reason to be beautiful for any other creature, like a peacock for example. They are very small unicellular organisms that live in water and must have special properties, in particular, they must be mechanically resistant, light, and permeable. (https://epic.awi.de/id/eprint/5688/1/Ham2002b.pdf).

These properties are in great demand in industry, which is why we have been transferring the construction principles of diatoms and radiolarians for many years in a bionic product development process (Evolutionary Light Structure Engineering "ELISE") to technical structures that have to be particularly light and stable.

In the process, the topics of design and architecture have often really jumped out at us.

ELISE developments are very powerful but also very elaborate - too expensive for most components. That's why in 2018 a few of us spun off ELISE GmbH - renamed Synera GmbH in 2022. Synera offers software for integrated product development ("generative engineering"). Here, instead of designing a component, you program the product development process, and the product then develops itself - as desired, with a focus on sustainability, performance, price, weight, and so on. Synera's software is unique and ingenious when it comes to efficiently running high-quality product development; it is, therefore, used by the leading companies in the automotive, aerospace, and mechanical engineering industries. But that's another story.

The query is part of the project „Light Beauty“, which has been supported by the Dr. Ernst Weisse-Stiftung.


We think that a beautiful environment has a positive effect on the soul and health.
Similar to the effect of more plants in the city, a good climate, pleasant acoustics, and healthy, tasty food.

And we are curious: What exactly is so attractive about the shells, if they have no reason to be attractive at all?

Actually, this would already suffice as motivation, because as simple as this question seems to be, as complex is its background: The plankton shells have been optimized by evolution in terms of lightweight construction and strength. We humans have to be able to classify our environment, which includes environmental factors such as smell, temperature, sounds, and haptics, but also geometric properties. We apparently equate physical symmetry and balanced proportions of potential partners with "health" and judge them as "beautiful". From the point of view of evolutionary theory, this is quite understandable. But what good does it do us if we find rather abstract, complex ways of constructing diatoms beautiful? We, therefore, want to find out which forms are favored.

But there is another, more mundane reason: we are happy about beautiful things and annoyed by ugly buildings, cars, children's toys, and much more. It is certainly (hopefully) not intentional that things sometimes look so repulsive. Sometimes, it seems, things simply have to be designed and produced cheaply because it is quite time-consuming and thus expensive to make things beautiful.

Conversely, we are, of course, happy about beautiful things, for example, flowers, landscapes, and animals, but also about beautiful design and beautiful buildings. Many designers and architects and nature make sure that they exist, fortunately. But we want more of them! It may be that this survey will help with that.

We need you!

Why should you help to find out which principles are behind the beauty of plankton (and certain building principles)?

  • 1. Surveys are fun!

    Especially, if it is about fascinating organisms, which are already beautiful by nature, like in this case.

  • 2. your environment becomes more beautiful

    If you help to find out how to develop not only sustainable and efficient, but also beautiful products and buildings, then maybe your environment as a whole will become a bit smarter and also more beautiful! Because we will publish the results and maybe even make them available via software for product development.

  • 3. Natural Geometry and Beauty Network

    But that's not all yet: This survey is only the first round. There's a lot that's not yet included here, but we'll get to it soon. And we hope that your participation in the survey will lead to the creation of a network of people who really care about the topic! That's why we are starting a Geometry and Beauty group on LinkedIn, just have a look!

This research project is supported and accompanied by: