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Crocheting the Hyperbolic Geometry of Corals

June 5, 2009

A founder of the Institute For Figuring, Australian science writer Margaret Wertheim combines handicrafts, marine biology, and environmental activism to help raise awareness about climate change and its impact on coral reefs—and at the same time reveal the mathematical nature of nature.

To Wertheim, coral reefs, sponges, and slugs exhibit a special form of geometry, called hyperbolic geometry, and the best way to model such natural objects is via crocheting. "The natural world is full of hyperbolic wonders," Wertheim said.

Wertheim's crocheting efforts in hyperbolic space, which began in 2005, have focused on modeling coral, often out of wool and other yarns and sometimes using materials such as plastic bottles and other trash. Her approach is based on the technique of hyperbolic crochet discovered by mathematician Daina Taimina of Cornell University.

Wertheim's "Crochet Coral Reef" project has turned into a global collaboration of math- and science-minded craft-masters, who have contributed tens of thousands of hours of labor to model thousands of coral shapes, designs, and patterns. The resulting, ever-evolving "archipelago of stunning craft finesse," has been exhibited in Chicago, New York, London, and Los Angeles.

Wertheim described the project in a presentation at the TED conference last February.

Source: BioLogos Foundation, May 28, 2009.

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Friday, June 5, 2009

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