Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Introducing Margaret Wertheim as a Member of the Re-crafting Team

Hello to everyone following this blog. I'm Margaret Wertheim and I'm thrilled to be part of the team for the Re-Crafting Mathematics Education project, an endeavor that has far-reaching consequences for how we see, understand, conceive of, and practice mathematics.

By way of introducing myself, I'll begin by saying that I am the creator - with my twin sister Christine Wertheim - of the Crochet Coral Reef project which some of you may know about. The Crochet Reef is now the largest participatory science and art project in the world and has been going for almost a decade. During that time, almost 8000 women (plus a few men) in more than a dozen countries have been collectively engaged in making gorgeous, and often giant sculptural installations of coral reefs using the craft of crochet.

Crochet Coral Reef - Green and Purple Garden curated by Margaret and Christine Wertheim for the Institute For Figuring,
featuring hyperbolic sea-slug by Marianne Midelburg and branched coral tree by Fiona Giles.

The Reef project has its roots simultaneously in craft, science, art and mathematics. All the frilly, crenellated forms that you see in coral reefs - in corals, kelps, sponges, and nudibranchs - are biological manifestations of what is known as hyperbolic geometry, an alternative to the Euclidean geometry we learn about in school. Although nature has been making such structures for hundreds of million years, human mathematicians only discovered hyperbolic forms in the 19th century after they'd spent hundreds of years trying to prove it was impossible. Yet while brainless corals effortlessly build hyperbolic forms out of minerals they filter out of sea-water, it's incredibly difficult for humans to make models of these shapes. It turns out that the best way to do it is with crochet. So the reason we are crocheting a coral reef is that its the logically necessary medium to use if you want to emulate what nature itself is doing. And one of the miracles here is that tiny ancient organisms in some sense understand profound mathematical truths - they literally do mathematics in the fibers of their being.

During the course of the Re-Crafting Mathematics project, one of the things we'll be exploring is how math is also realized in the fibers of feminine craft practice. I'll have lots  more to say on this subject over the coming months. In the meantime, I am honored to announce here - for the first time publicly - that a gorgeous comprehensive book about the Crochet Coral Reef project that Christine and I have been working on for the past year is finally finished and printed and its on the way to the publisher now. The book contains chapters on the science, the art and the environmental issues behind the Reef project, plus one on hyperbolic geometry and the discovery of hyperbolic crochet by mathematician Daina Taimina. Packed full of stunning photos of the many crochet reefs that have been made around the world, the book also contains a specially-designed section that lists all the 7000+ women who have contributed their handicraft skills to this unique, collective art+science+mathematics happening. If you'd like to order a copy of this lavish, limited-edition volume, you can do so here. The book is published by the Institute For Figuring, an organization Christine and I founded whose mission is to "promote the aesthetic and poetic dimensions of science and mathematics."

Cover of Crochet Coral Reef book by Margaret and Christine Wertheim, published by the Institute For Figuring, 2015.

In addition to being the co-creator of the Crochet Coral Reef project, I have also had a long career as a pioneer in communicating science and mathematics to women. My first book, "Pythagoras' Trousers", is a cultural history of physics which also explores how women were systematically excluded from this field for 2000 years. Throughout my career as a science writer, broadcaster, and exhibition curator, I have strived to find innovative ways to engage women in science and mathematics. I look forward to being part of the Re-Crafting Math Education team and extend my admiration and congratulations to Kylie and Melissa for pulling off this truly ground-breaking grant.

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