By masterminding a project to model a coral reef armed only with crochet hooks, Margaret Wertheim hopes to bring some of the most complicated mathematical models embodied in our universe into the minds (and hands) of the masses.

Why you should listen

Snowflakes, fractals, the patterns on a leaf -- there's beauty to be found at the intersection of nature and physics, beauty and math. Science writer Margaret Wertheim (along with her twin sister, Christine) founded the Institute for Figuring to advance the aesthetic appreciation of scientific concepts, from the natural physics of snowflakes and fractals to human constructs such as Islamic mosaics, string figures and weaving.

The IFF's latest project is perhaps its most beguilingly strange -- a coral reef constructed entirely by crochet hook, a project that takes advantage of the happy congruence between the mathematical phenomena modeled perfectly by the creatures of the reef,  and repetitive tasks such as crocheting -- which, as it turns out, is perfectly adapted to model hyperbolic space. It is easy to sink into the kaleidoscopic, dripping beauty of the yarn-modeled reef, but the aim of the reef project is twofold: to draw attention to distressed coral reefs around the world, dying in droves from changing ocean saline levels, overfishing, and a myriad of threats; and to display a flavor of math that was previously almost impossible to picture. By modeling these complex equations in physical space, this technique can help mathematicians see patterns and make breakthroughs.

Wertheim is now working on a book about maverick scientist James Carter.

What others say

“Margaret Wertheim might technically fall under the oh-so-banal title of a science communicator. But this fiery Australian native has roamed far beyond the standard definition of one who just talks about science.” — Kristin Abkemeier, Inkling Magazine

Margaret Wertheim’s TED talks

Margaret Wertheim on the TED Blog

The week in comments

April 25, 2009

If we had to choose a theme for this week’s comments, it would be Interaction Now. Usually, the highlights are reserved for your one-off quips, but from the themes of the talks, to speakers commenting on their own TEDTalks, to lightning-fast replies on threads, it was all about talking it out. On Margaret Wertheim’s TEDTalk: […]

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The beautiful math that links coral, crochet and hyperbolic geometry: Margaret Wertheim on TED.com

April 20, 2009

Margaret Wertheim leads a project to re-create the creatures of the coral reefs using a crochet technique invented by a mathematician — celebrating the amazements of the reef, and deep-diving into the hyperbolic geometry underlying coral creation. (Recorded at TED2009, February 2009, in Long Beach, California. Duration: 15:34.) Watch Margaret Wertheim’s talk on TED.com, where […]

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