August 18, 2010
This fall, the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef will be in Washington, D.C. A traveling exhibition, it combines art, marine biology, and the mathematics of hyperbolic geometry.
In 1997, mathematician Daina Taimina (Cornell) discovered how to make models of the geometry known as "hyperbolic space" via the art of crocheting.
Taimina has chronicled her work on her blog and in the book Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes, the 2010 winner of Britain's Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year.
Inspired by Taimina’s work, Australian sisters Margaret and Christine Wertheim began a project in 2005 to raise awareness of the effects of pollution and global warming on the Great Barrier Reef. Marine organisms, including corals, embody hyperbolic geometry, which maximizes surface area of limited volume.
According to the project’s official website, “The Wertheim sisters adopted Dr Taimina's techniques and elaborated upon them to develop a whole taxonomy of reef-life forms. Loopy ‘kelps’, fringed ‘anemones’, crenelated ‘sea slugs’, and curlicued ‘corals’ have all been modeled with these methods. The basic process for making these forms is a simple pattern or algorithm, which on its own produces a mathematically pure shape, but by varying or mutating this algorithm, endless variations and permutations of shape and form can be produced.”
Margaret and Christine Wertheim are director and co-director of the Institute for Figuring, an educational organization dedicated to enhancing the public understanding of figures and figuring techniques. For more information, see the Math in the News item "Crocheting the Hyperbolic Geometry of Corals" (June 5, 2009). Margaret Wertheim recently gave a TED talk about the project.
The project also has a community component in which citizens of local cities and regions construct their own reefs. This fall, crocheters and crochet groups from the Washington metropolitan area have been invited to create their own pieces, which can become part of the display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, from October 16, 2010 – April 17, 2011.