Hyperbolic Crochet

As a science major and a consumer/creator of prose, art, and other creative endeavors, I am interested in the various intersections between science, math, literature, and art. As I was casually searching the web this weekend for cool math and science things, I came upon a video on the Exploratorium’s website about the hyperbolic crochet phenomenon. I’d heard of it before but hadn’t really checked it out–hyperbolic space is a pretty obscure topic as far as math goes (that is, it’s certainly not something the core undergrad math curriculum would mention), and I’m not usually one for arts and crafts. However, I’m a huge sucker for anything that makes connections between science and art.

The crochet models of hyperbolic space were invented by a mathematician at Cornell University and were taken up by the ladies at the Institute for Figuring, an organization whose goals of educating the public about figuring extend into the realms of art, math, physics, and even biology. The institute’s most famous project, the crochet coral reef, uses the hyperbolic crochet models to represent coral and other marine creatures in an attempt to bring awareness to global warming’s effects on marine life. Though the Institute for Figuring itself claims to be in Los Angeles, bits and pieces of the reef are touring all over the world so I don’t know how feasible it would be to actually see some of it.

The hyperbolic space sculptures exemplify the fact that sometimes a good way to understand obscure math is through art, and also that sometimes a good way to bring intangible scientific phenomena to the world is through community crafts. Since science is often inaccessible to the general public, projects like the crochet coral reef and other attempts by artists and scientists to bridge the gap are important for modern civilization, where we reap both the benefits and the consequences of centuries of scientific innovation.