I had the absolute delight to view an example of the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Project at a local museum yesterday. The project was started in 2005 by Margaret and Christine Wertheim of the Institute For Figuring and was inspired by a presentation by Cornell mathematician Dr. Daina Taimina (read her original paper Crocheting the Hyperbolic Plane). Dr. Taimina was inspired by a lecture on hyperbolic geometry, noting that nature, especially coral reefs, was full of examples of non-euclidic forms, which she demonstrated through crochet. The sisters Wertheim brought Dr. Taimina’s ideas to life with the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef’s primary exhibit, currently at Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York; and satellite reef projects in Chicago, New York, Arizona, Indiana, Florida, the Smithsonian, Latvia, UK, Ireland, Australia and Africa.
Here’s Margaret Wertheim giving a TED talk about the project.
It’s a fascinating lecture, touching on concepts of Darwinian evolution, women’s handicrafts and environmental activism. As a former educator, I’m particularly interested in how this project can be used to explain complex mathematical concepts to people who don’t normally embrace complex mathematical concepts, by which I mean me. I’ve always felt my biggest failure as a feminist was not learning more of the math and science I had every opportunity to learn. Wertheim advocates for “play tanks” and “kindergarten for grown-ups” – opportunities to interact with hands on models of complex and abstract concepts, in a way that brings these traditionally lofty and inaccessible ideas to everyone.
Enough with the chit chat, let’s look at some pictures! Margaret Wertheim has a creative content licensed Flickr, I’ve picked a few great shots, but go check out all her Project related albums.