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In this multifaceted talk bridging the domains of mathematics and culture, science writer and exhibition curator Margaret Wertheim will discuss the story of hyperbolic space.
Throughout the natural world – in corals, cactuses, sea-slugs and lettuce leaves – we see swooping, curving and crenelated forms. All these are biological manifestations of hyperbolic geometry, an alternative to the Euclidean geometry we learn about in school. While nature has been playing with permutations of hyperbolic space for hundreds of millions of years, mathematicians spent centuries trying to prove that such forms were impossible. The discovery of hyperbolic geometry in the nineteenth century helped to usher in a mathematical revolution, giving rise to new ways of mapping and analysing curved surfaces. Such “non-Euclidean geometry” now underlies the general theory of relativity and our understanding of the universe.
If the cosmos may be a hyperbolic manifold, at the molecular level carbon atoms can assemble into hyperbolic lattices, giving rise to exotic new materials. Meanwhile, on the Great Barrier Reef, the corals making hyperbolic structures are being threatened by global warming and the human deluge of carbon into our oceans. In this multifaceted talk bridging the domains of mathematics and culture, science writer and exhibition curator Margaret Wertheim will discuss the story of hyperbolic space. How do hyperbolic forms arise in nature, in technology, and in art? And what might we learn about alternative possibilities for being from a mathematical discovery that redefined our concept of parallel lines.
This talk is being presented in conjunction with AMSI’s annual mathematics graduate student Summer School, at which Ms Wertheim will also be speaking about the subject of women and mathematics.
About Margaret Wertheim
Margaret Wertheim has undergraduate degrees in mathematics and physics. Originally intending to become a research physicist, she ultimately decided to become a science communicator, and has spent the past 30 years pioneering new ways of creatively engaging audiences with maths and science. A specific feature of her work has been finding ways to engage women and girls with STEM subjects.
For ten years Margaret wrote regular columns about science for women's magazines, including Australian Vogue and Elle Australia. She may be the only journalist in the world to have held such a position. For ABC Australia, Margaret also wrote, conceived and co-directed a 6-part television science series, called Catalyst, that was aimed at teenage girls.
In 1991 Margaret moved to Los Angeles where she founded the Institute For Figuring, a non-profit organisation devoted to "the aesthetic and poetic dimensions of science and mathematics." Through the IFF she has curated art+science exhibitions for museums and galleries around the world, including the Hayward Gallery in London and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. The IFF's Crochet Coral Reef project (which she created with her artist-twin-sister Christine), is now the largest participatory art and science project in the world.
Through an unlikely combination of geometry and handicraft, the Crochet Reef project educates women about the foundations of mathematics while also drawing attention to the devastating impact of climate change on coral reefs worldwide. The Crochet Coral Reef project has been called "the AIDS quilt of global warming.".
Registration and bookings
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