TED: Margaret Wertheim on the beautiful math of coral

I recently watched this TED talk (Technology Engineering and Design), and loved how art, craft, math, and engineering intersected. Wertheim is a science writer, and with her twin sister Christine, founded the Institute for Figuring — “an organization dedicated to the poetic and aesthetic dimensions of science, mathematics and the technical arts.” She termed the Institute a “play tank,” rather than a “think tank.”  This video describes how they started using crochet as a model to show how lines appear curved, but are actually straight. Think of the ruffles on the edge of lettuce leaves, and how a straight line drawn on a flattened leaf would appear curved once the leaf was allowed to regain its shape. This is hyperbolic modeling (non-Euclidian geometry), and is surprisingly best modeled in crochet.

These ruffles abound in sea life from corals to nudibranchs. Margaret accepted a Chicago gallery’s request to fill a large gallery with crocheted sea life/hyperbolic planes. Christine is the crocheting sister — Margaret didn’t grasp how much work would be involved — but the work was completed. The exhibit went on to be displayed in New York City, London, and Los Angeles, and has spawned other coral reefs.

And if you want to make your own, Interweave Crochet published instructions to get you started.

4 thoughts on “TED: Margaret Wertheim on the beautiful math of coral”

  1. thanks, that was amazing work, would love to see in person…..I just got done crocheting a baby blanket….off to Interwaeve

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