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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Crochet, Coral Reefs, and TED

Watching 60 Minutes tonight and the segment on TED Talks reminded me of one of the first TED Talks I saw back in 2009 -- "The Beautiful Math of Coral" by Margaret Wertheim.  She's the science writer who, along with her sister Christine, founded the Institute for Figuring (the IFF), an organization dedicated to the aesthetic appreciation of science, mathematics, and engineering.  She's the one who started the crocheted coral reef project to draw attention to the dangers facing coral reefs around the world as well as the ability of only crochet to model hyperbolic planes and space (though I think now with 3D imaging on computers, that might not be a wholly true statement anymore).  And exactly what is a hyperbolic space?  Think lettuce and kelp -- they are natural examples of hyperbolic geometry - which is also found in the anatomical frills of sea slugs, flatworms and other underwater life found in coral reefs.  And what's really cool is that it was Dr. Daina Taimina, a mathematician, who discovered in 1997 how to make physical models of hyperbolic space using crochet; previously, many mathematicians did not believe it was possible for humans to construct such forms in the physical world. Sadly I missed the opportunity to help create the crochet reef that was on exhibit at the Smithsonian in 2010-2011, but you can see some photos from my 2011 blog post about the exhibit and a list of the contributors to the exhibit here.

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