The first Fall 2016 class meets on September 14 (Wed) at 1pm in E15-341. (No class on September 7th (Wed))


Signup Sheet

This HCI (Human-Computer Interactions) course will explore the design space of Radical Atoms that gives dynamic physical form to digital information and computation.  Radical Atoms is a computationally transformable and reconfigurable material that is bidirectionally coupled with an underlying digital model (bits) so that dynamic changes in digital state can be reflected in physical shape and materiality in real time, and vice versa.

Our goal is to broaden the bandwidth of interaction between people and digital information & computation through the invention of new materials that help people design, express, and communicate using the full range of human senses and skills.  We will pursue the interfaces that are not only practical, but also aesthetically pleasing and inspiring.

This is a project-based course centered around hands-on technological tutorials for prototyping, material design workshops, literatures on dynamic shape displays and programmable materials, and two major students’ projects, as well as various local and guest lectures in the fields of HCI, interaction design and enabling technologies.

Students will design/develop experimental user interfaces, applications, and/or enabling technologies, using sketches, physical mockups, and working prototypes to solicit studio discussion. Course enrollment is limited to around 24 to keep a design studio atmosphere.



In 1997, we presented our vision of “Tangible Bits” at the CHI ’97 conference. We proposed the concept of Tangible User Interface (TUI) that is based on physical embodiment of digital information & computation, in order to go beyond the current dominant paradigm of “Painted Bits” or Graphical User Interface (GUI). Humans have evolved a heightened ability to sense and manipulate the physical world, yet the GUI based on intangible pixels takes little advantage of this capacity. The TUI builds upon our dexterity by embodying digital information in physical space. TUIs expand the affordances of physical objects, surfaces, and spaces so they can support direct engagement with the digital world.

Through the design of a variety of TUIs, however, we have learned that TUIs are limited by the rigidity of “atoms” in comparison with the fluidity of “bits”. TUIs have limited ability to change the form or properties of physical objects in real time. This constraint can make the physical state of TUIs inconsistent with the underlying digital models.


To address this challenge, we presented our new vision, “Radical Atoms”, in 2012. Radical Atoms takes a leap beyond Tangible Bits by assuming a hypothetical generation of materials that can change form and appearance dynamically, becoming as reconfigurable as pixels on a screen.

Radical Atoms is a computationally transformable and reconfigurable material that is bidirectionally coupled with an underlying digital model (bits) so that dynamic changes of physical form can be reflected in digital states in real time, and vice versa.

Radical Atoms is the future material that can transform their shape, conform to constraints, and inform the users of their affordances. Radical Atoms is a vision for the future of human-material interaction, in which all digital information has a physical manifestation so that we can interact directly with it. We no longer think of designing the interface, but rather of the interface itself as material. We may call it “Material User Interface (MUI).”